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Full text of "The western range : letter from the Secretary of Agriculture transmitting in response to Senate Resolution no. 289 : a report on the western range, a great but neglected natural resource"

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From the collection of the 

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San Francisco, California 

2d Session \ 


I No. 199 









APRIL 24 (calendar day, APRIL 29), 1936. Referred to the 

Committee on Agriculture and Forestry and 

ordered to be printed with illustrations 





Washington, April 28, 1936. 

SIR : In compliance with the request in Senate Resolution 289 (74th 
Cong., 2d sess.), introduced by Senator Norris, I have the honor to 
submit herewith a report on the range problem of the western United 
States prepared by the Forest Service of this Department. 
The resolution reads: 

Whereas large parts of the western range have been subject to unrestricted 
use since Settlement and are commonly believed to be more or less seriously 
depleted; and 

Whereas the range resource constitutes one of the major sources of wealth 
to the Nation ; and 

Whereas the Department of Agriculture has through many years of research 
and of administration of the national forests accumulated a large amount of 
information on the original and present condition of the range resource, the 
factors which have led to the present condition, and the social and economic 
importance of the range and its conservation to the West and to the entire 
United States: Therefore be it 

Resolved, That the Secretary of Agriculture be, and hereby is, requested to 
transmit to the Senate at his earliest convenience a report incorporating this 
information, together with recommendations as to constructive measures. 

In transmitting this report I shall resist the temptation, despite 
my great personal interest in the range question, to comment at 
length on its findings and recommendations, and instead merely 
emphasize three of the most important phases of the discussion. 

1. The first of these is the astonishing degree to which the western 
range resource has been neglected, despite its magnitude and 

One indication of this neglect is the lack of public knowledge. 
The general public knows less of the range resource, and as a result 
has been and is less concerned about its condition and conservation 
than of any other of our important natural resources. This is true 
in spite of the fact that the range occupies about two-fifths of the 
total land area of the United States and three-fourths of that of the 
range country ; that the range territory produces about 75 percent of 
the national output of wool and mohair, and in pounds about 55 per- 
cent of the sheep and lambs, and nearly one-third of the cattle and 
calves. In fact, this report represents the first attempt, although 
much of the range has been grazed for 50 years at least, to make an 
all-inclusive survey of the range resource, its original and present 
condition, the causes and effects of changes, the social and economic 
function which it does and should render to the West and to the 
Nation, and, finally, to outline practical solutions for at least the 
more important problems. 



The entire history of public-land disposal under both Federal and 
State laws reflects this neglect. These laws have with few excep- 
tions been framed and administered without regard to range condi- 
tions and requirements. The result is an ownership pattern so com- 
plex that satisfactory handling of the range is seriously handicapped. 
In this pattern is intermingled an enormous area that all of the 
available information indicates is sujbmarginal for private ownership. 

Further evidence of neglect is failure to regulate the use of range 
lands in such a way as to maintain the resource. This failure has 
been so general under all classes of ownership that in contrast ex- 
amples of good management are decidedly conspicuous. The result 
is serious and practically universal range and soil depletion, which 
already has gone far toward the creation of a permanent desert over 
enormous areas. An even more serious result has been an appalling 
waste of the human resource. And three-fourths of the range area is 
still on the down grade. 

The commonly accepted theory that private ownership in itself is 
enough of an incentive to insure the satisfactory handling of range 
lands has proved to be true only in the case of exceptional ranches. 

State range lands have been leased without provision for the man- 
agement of the resource or its perpetuation. Federal holdings are 
scattered among many bureaus in several departments. The national 
forests, which afford an example of large-scale range conservation, 
are administered by the Department of Agriculture. The grazing 
districts, which are only now being placed under administration after 
a half century or more of neglect, and the public domain, which is still 
subject to unrestricted use, fall under the Department of the Interior. 
These three classes of land make up the bulk of Federal holdings. 

Neglect is further shown by the meager scale of research by both the 
Federal and State Governments. A reasonable program of research 
might have prevented many serious mistakes and maladjustments. 
Extension to carry research findings in better range practices to pri- 
vate owners has been practically nonexistent. 

2. The second phase of the situation to which I wish to call atten- 
tion is the fundamental character both of the range resource and of 
its use. 

They have to do with land; with the production on that land of 
forage crops, with the utilization of the crops in livestock and, in a 
lesser degree, wildlife production ; with the management of land and 
its forage cover to obtain watershed protection and the services needed 
primarily by agriculture for irrigation. Effectiveness in all of these 
things depends upon the biological and agricultural sciences. In 
short, they are a part, and in the West one of the most important 
parts, of agriculture. 

Furthermore, through the free play of economic forces, range live- 
stock production once almost wholly an independent pastoral enter- 
prise and cropland agriculture have become closely integrated, in- 
separable parts of the agricultural structure of the West. Except for 
specialty farms, a high percentage of the hundreds of thousands of 
western farm or ranch units represent widely varying combinations 
of range and crop agriculture. More than one-third of the feed for 
range livestock now comes from croplands or irrigated pastures. 
Problems of one part have become problems of both. Major malad- 
justments in either of which there are far too many now inevitably 


affect the other. No comprehensive program can be prepared for 
either which does not take the other definitely into account. 

3. The third phase of the range situation to which I wish to call 
attention is a limited number of remedial measures of outstanding 
importance among the many that are required. The range problem 
as a whole has been allowed to drift for so long that its difficulties 
have been accentuated. It has become exceedingly broad and com- 
plex, beginning with the basic soil resource at the one extreme, and 
extending through a wide range of overlapping interrelated problems 
to human welfare at the other. No single measure offers hope of 
more than a partial solution. 

One of the most important of the measures required is to place all 
range lands under management that will stop depletion and restore 
and thereafter maintain the resource in perpetuity, while at the same 
time permitting its use. This will involve many difficult operations 
such, for example, as drastic reductions of stock on overgrazed ranges. 
It will involve various forms of use such as livestock grazing, water- 
shed services, wildlife production, etc., which should be so correlated 
as to obtain the maximum private and public benefits. 

A second line of action involves the return to public ownership of 
lands so low in productivity, or so seriously devastated, or requiring 
such large expenditures to protect high public values, that private 
owners can hold them only at a loss. Closely related are a far-reach- 
ing series of adjustments in size of ownership units to make both 
private and public ownership feasible and effective, each in its proper 

A third line of action is to put jurisdiction over publicly owned 
range lands on a sound basis. Unquestionably the only plan which 
can be defended is to concentrate responsibility for the administration 
of Federal lands in a single department to avoid unnecessary duplica- 
tions, excessive expenditures, and fundamental differences in policies, 
and to obtain the highest efficiency in administration and the maxi- 
mum of service to users. Since the administration of the range 
resource and its use is agriculture, and since the administration of 
federally owned ranges can and should be used as an affirmative means 
in the rehabilitation of western agriculture, the grazing districts and 
the public domain should be transferred to the Department of Agri- 

Furthermore, the concentration of jurisdiction over federally owned 
range lands is a vitally important step toward the concentration in a 
single department of the still more inclusive functions, including aid 
and services to private owners of range lands, which should be exer- 
cised by the Federal Government on the entire range problem. Such 
a concentration is a fundamental principle of good organization if 
the Federal Government is to redeem its full responsibility in the 
restoration and care of this much-neglected resource. 

The States have similar jurisdictional problems which demand 

A fourth measure which should be emphasized is the wide scope 
of research necessary to put range use for all purposes on a sound 
footing. ^ Closely related is extension, which will carry the informa- 
tion obtained to the private owner and help him constructively in its 


With these and other recommendations of the Forest Service, I am 
in general accord, and I hope that in carrying them out there need not 
be too serious a delay, since further delay will merely serve to accen- 
tuate difficulties and increase costs. 

The solution of the range problem can be made an important con- 
tribution to the conservation of our natural resources. It can be made 
an important contribution to the rehabilitation of western agriculture. 
Finally, and most important, it can be made an important contribu- 
tion to social and economic security and human welfare. Public 
neglect is partly responsible for the aggravated character of the range 
problem, and this makes all the more urgent and necessary public 
action toward its solution. 

H. A. WALLACE, Secretary. 


Washington, April 28, 1936. 

DEAR MR. SECRETARY: I am transmitting herewith the report re- 
quested in Senate Resolution 289. This incorporates information 
obtained by many years of research on the range and watershed 
problems, by special surveys which have been under way for several 
years, and by 30 years' administration of the national forests. It 
includes the pertinent information now available in the Forest 
Service and that which could be obtained from other Federal and 
State agencies. It necessarily has the limitations inherent in the 
first attempt to treat the range resource as a whole, but it is believed 
that its findings are essentially sound. 

One of the primary reasons for the neglect, and hence the serious 
depletion of the range resource and a series of major maladjust- 
ments in land use, has been a division of responsibility among public 
agencies. No one Federal agency has been responsible for an all- 
inclusive, affirmative handling of the entire range problem. A sim- 
ilar situation obtains for every western State in which the range 
is an important factor. 

If the Federal Government is to redeem its responsibilities, one 
of the first and most important needs is, therefore, the concentra- 
tion of responsibility in a single Federal department. This should 
include responsibility for whatever additional and feasible action 
is required to put privately owned range lands in a satisfactory 
status. Such concentration affords the only effective way to stop 
the depletion of ranges under way for 50 years, and to start them 
on the upgrade. Furthermore, such concentration affords the only 
effective means to integrate range use soundly with the other forms 
of western agriculture of which it is an essential part. Since the 
problem is wholly agricultural, concentration must be in the Depart- 
ment of Agriculture. 

To redeem their obligations, the States must face and meet sim- 
ilar problems of jurisdiction and responsibility. 
Sincerely yours, 

Chief, Forest Service. 


1. The range area of 728 million acres is nearly 40 percent of the 
total land area of the continental United States; more than 99 per- 
cent is available for livestock grazing. 

2. About half the range area, or 376 million acres, is in private 
ownership. One-third, or 239 million acres, is Federal range, 
divided among national forests, grazing districts, public domain, and 
other withdrawals and reservations. 

3. Forage depletion for the entire range area averages more than 
half ; the result of a few decades of livestock grazing. 

4. Range depletion on the public domain and grazing districts 
averages 67 percent, on private, Indian, and State and county lands 
about half, and on national forests 30 percent. 

5. Three-fourths of the entire range area has declined during the 
last 30 years, and only 16 percent has improved. 

6. During the same period 95 percent of the public domain and 
grazing districts has gone downgrade and only 2 percent has im- 
proved. For other forms of ownership and control corresponding 
figures are : Private lands 85 and 10, State and county lands 88 and 7, 
Indian lands 75 and 10, national forests 5 and 77. 

7. Only about 95 million acres of the entire range area is in reason- 
ably satisfactory condition. Nearly half of the national forest range 
and 12 percent of private ownership falls in this category. The rea- 
sonably satisfactory areas in other ownerships are inconsequential. 
Probably not much over 5 percent of the entire range area is in a 
thoroughly satisfactory condition. 

8. An outstanding cause of range depletion has been excessive 
stocking. Some 17.3 million animal units are now grazed on ranges 
which it is estimated can carry only 10.8 million. The removal of 
the surplus is the most effective way to stop depletion and start the 
range on the upgrade. 

9. About seven-tenths, or 523 million acres, of the range area is 
still subject to practically unrestricted grazing. 

10. Precipitation in the range country averages less than one- 
third that of the Middle West and East. One to 4 drought years 
out of 10 characterize practically all of the range area. The failure 
to recognize in stocking the wide and direct fluctuation of forage 
production with precipitation has been one primary cause of 

11. Among financial handicaps to the range livestock producer, 
possibly the most serious, is the marketing differential, mainly 
freight, which for Idaho is nearly $8.50 for an 1,100-pound steer in 
the Chicago market as compared with Illinois. 

12. The one best answer to this and other financial handicaps is 
cheap range feed, which costs only one-fifth to one-tenth as much as 
hay or other supplemental feed. But serious depletion of range feed 
has been practically universal, and heavy supplemental feeding has 
been necessary. 



13. Unsuitable land laws and policies have made the range a be- 
wildering mosaic of different kinds of ownerships and of uneconomic 
units, which together constitute a serious obstacle to range manage- 
ment and profitable livestock production. 

14. Range livestock production was once almost wholly pastoral. 
Thirty-five percent of the feed for western livestock is now supple- 
mental feeds raised on croplands or irrigated pastures a threefold 
increase in 45 years. Except for highly specialized crop farming, 
mostly on irrigated land, western agriculture is now primarily an 
integration of range livestock grazing and crop farming. 

15. Excluding irrigation improvements, the 1930 census values 
farm lands and buildings, privately owned range lands, and farm 
and range livestock, etc., at nearly 12.9 billion dollars. 

16. Most spectacular among the maladjustments of range-land use 
has been the attempt to use more than 50 million acres for dry-land 
farming. About half, ruined for forage production for years to come, 
has already been abandoned for cultivation, much of it even before 
going to patent. 

IT. A more serious but much less spectacular maladjustment has 
been the private acquisition of many million acres, either submar- 
ginal for private ownership as shown by high tax delinquency and 
relief rolls, abandonment, etc., or having high public values for 
watershed protection which private owners cannot maintain, or both. 

18. Four-fifths of the 232 million acres which yield 85 percent of 
the water of the major western streams is range land, and low pre- 
cipitation makes water the limiting factor in nearly all western 

19. No less than 589 million acres of range land is eroding more or 
less seriously, reducing soil productivity and impairing watershed 
services. Three-fifths of this area is adding to the silt load of major 
western streams. 

20. It will probably require more than 50 years of management to 
restore the depleted range sufficiently to carry even the 17.3 million 
livestock units now grazed, and probably an additional 50 years to 
restore it to the nearest possible approach to its original grazing 
capacity of 22.5 million units. 

21. Action of greatest immediate urgency and importance is to 

Stop soil and forage depletion, and start both on the upgrade ; 

Reduce excessive stocking, place all range lands under man- 
agement, and restore cheap range feed; 

Rectify land ownership and use maladjustments, and obtain a 
sound distribution of ownership between private and public 
agencies ; 

Build up economic private and public units ; 

Balance and integrate crop and range use ; 

Correlate the livestock, watershed, forest, wildlife, and recrea- 
tion forms of range-land uses and services ; 

Obtain a recognition of the responsibility of stewardship by 
private owners; 

Minimize or remove various financial handicaps of stock pro- 
ducers ; 


[Reconcile range conservation and the financial needs of State 
institutions ; 

Solve the tax delinquency problem; 

Place public lands under the supervision of agricultural 
agencies as a step toward unification of public responsibility for 
the entire range problem. Provide on such lands for a sound 
distribution of grazing privileges, and prevent the establishment 
of prescriptive rights; 

Obtain and apply the information necessary for the conserva- 
tion and wise use of the range resource; 

Prevent human wastage and insure social and economic 


The preparation of this report has largely been a group effort in 
which a large number of Forest Service employees have participated. 
Authorship credited under the various titles only partially indicates 
the contribution made by these authors, who for the most part have 
also given a large amount of time and effort to the technical review 
and constructive criticism of sections other than their own. 

The following employees whose names do not appear as authors 
contributed in such ways as the compilation of data and the 
preparation of material for the report, or in the critical review of 
manuscripts, or in an advisory capacity : 

C. A. Anderson, John Bancker, Miss Frances L. Beckwith, Dr. 
Miriam L. Bomhard, Miss Theo Campbell, George H. Dacy, Jerry 
Dahl, W. A. Dayton, E. L. Demmon, K. M. De Nio, L. A. Dremolski, 
E. J. Dyksterhius, Miss Doris Hayes, C. F. Hunn, E. W. Kelley, R. F. 
Knoth, Albert Pierson, Dr. Oran Raber, C. E. Rachford, R. V. Rey- 
nolds, C. S. Robinson, Marshall Thayer, R. S. Wallace, J. C. Whitham. 
The statistical and much of the other basic material was organized 
under the supervision of Arthur Upson. 

A still larger group at the western forest and range experiment 
stations, regional offices, and on the national forests has over a period 
of several years collected the large volume of data which has consti- 
tuted the main basis for the report. 

In addition, a considerable number of Government units, both 
within and without the Department of Agriculture, have cooperated 
generously in supplying needed information ; among these, acknowl- 
edgment is due especially to the Agricultural Adjustment Adminis- 
tration, the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, the Bureau of 
Biological Survey, the Farm Credit Administration, the Rural Reset- 
tlement Administration, the Weather Bureau, and the Bureau of the 
Census. The ready cooperation of the State agricultural experiment 
stations in a number of the Western States was also of great assistance. 




I. The major range problems and their solution A re'sume' 1 

Major findings 3 

Serious range depletion practically universal 3 

Depletion resulted from a few outstanding causes 9 

Range use an integral part of western agriculture 16 

Serious social and economic losses 19 

Range conservation the exception 29 

Resilience of range livestock production 35 

Drastic remedial action required 37 

To restore and maintain the range 41 

For private lands and livestock 45 

In public land administration 51 

In research and extension 59 

In legislation 61 

Costs and returns 63 

The key to remedial action 66 

Is remedial action worth while? 67 

If no action is taken 67 

The benefits from restoration 68 

II. The virgin range 71 

A detailed picture of virgin range types 72 

What the range resource offered a growing Nation 80 

III. The white man's toll 81 

Forage depletion in the principal range types 84 

A century's toll in "free use" of the range 108 

IV. How and why 117 

History of range use 119 

The great boom in range cattle, 1880-85 119 

Genesis of the boom 120 

The collapse of the boom 122 

Recovery striving for security on the cattle range 123 

Increase in sheep accentuated bitter struggle for range 125 

Settlement intensifies tendency to range depletion 127 

Establishment of public-land control a stabilizing f actor. __ 129 
World War boom and post-war depression bring heavy de- 
mands on range 130 

Drought added to excess stocking works havoc on range __ 131 

Issues growing out of range-use history 132 

Climatic fluctuations 135 

Climatic fluctuations on western ranges 135 

Seasonal fluctuations 136 

Drought years 138 

The menace in a recurrence of dry years 139 

Progressive deficiencies 141 

Corresponding fluctuations in range vegetation 142 

Range forage production declines in dry years 143 

Effect of dry seasons on grazing use 145 

Vegetative stand decreases after drought 145 

Cyclic fluctuations in vegetative growth 147 

Climatic guides to permanent range use 148 

Excessive stocking 151 

Evidence of excessive stocking 152 

Numbers of livestock within range area 153 

Numbers of livestock on range and other feed 154 

Evidence afforded by range deterioration itself 161 

Evidence afforded by present stocking and estimated 

grazing capacity- ._ 164 

Evidence afforded by serious losses and unsatisfactory 

production 165 



IV. How and why Continued. 

Excessive stocking-<k)ntinued. 

Causes of excessive stocking 168 

Competition for range 168 

Stockmen believe profits depend on numbers 168 

Permitting ranges to suffer to reduce expenses 169 

Stocking on basis of better years 169 

Restocking too soon after drought 169 

Pressure on public range officials 169 

Some agencies have not faced their conservation re- 
sponsibility 170 

Lack of realization of consequences 170 

Overcoming excessive stocking not insurmountable 171 

Rule-of-thumb management 173 

Harmful practices evolved by rule-of -thumb 173 

Too many animals on the range 173 

Faulty distribution of livestock 174 

Improper season of use injures the range 177 

Poor balance between classes of animals and type of 

range 178 

The effect of burning on forage production 179 

Combined effects of unsound rule-of- thumb practices 180 

Reasons for development of rule-of -thumb practices 182 

The lag in research and extension 185 

Appraisal of range research and extension 185 

Duration of the work 185 

Character of investigations 186 

Expenditures 187 

Number of workers 188 

Range extension 188 

Examples of neglected unsolved problems of range restora- 
tion and management 189 

Problems of grazing capacity 189 

The role of vegetation in watershed protection 190 

Key forage plants 190 

Artificial revegetation 191 

Interplay of animal factors in their effect on range 191 

Need for simple usable measures of range condition 192 

Many other unsolved problems 192 

The net result a concluding appraisal 192 

Financial handicaps 193 

The relation of capital investments to profits and range 

depletion 193 

The relation of production costs to profits and range deple- 
tion 197 

Credit facilities and their relation to profits and range 

depletion 201 

The bankers' viewpoint 203 

Marketing and its relationship to profits and range deple- 
tion 205 

Profits 208 

Key financial problems 209 

Markets 209 

Credits 210 

Erroneous financial philosophy 210 

High land values 211 

Unsuitable land policy 213 

Introduction 213 

The period of disposal 215 

The homestead laws 216 

Enlarged homestead acts 220 

The grazing homestead law 221 

Land script, mineral laws, and other acts 226 

Railroad and other internal improvement grants 226 

Status of lands remaining in public ownership 230 

Texas lands 230 

State grants 231 

Indian lands 234 

Remaining public domain 236 


IV. How and why Continued. p age 
Unsuitable land policy Continued. 

Reasons for delay in adopting a constructive range-land 

policy 236 

The effects of past land policy 238 

Effect on present range-land ownership 238 

Effect on the range resource 245 

The problems which arise from land ownership 246 

Simplification of ownership pattern 246 

Division into economic units 247 

Taxation 247 

Responsibility for restoration 248 

Range conservation the exception 249 

The national forests - 249 

Establishment of the national forests 251 

Aims and objectives in administration 253 

Multiple use of resources 254 

Administration of range use 255 

Development and application of range management. __ 258 

Obstacles and problems in range management 264 

Range distribution policy 267 

Net results of 30 years of range administration. _ 274 

Indian lands 278 

Indian range resources 278 

Administration of Indian range 280 

Special handicaps in administration 282 

Wheeler-Howard Act 283 

Problems 284 

The grazing districts 285 

Favorable features of the Grazing Act 286 

Shortcomings of the Grazing Act 286 

Conservation on privately owned range 294 

West of the Great Plains 295 

The Great Plains 297 

The sandhills of Nebraska 299 

Privately owned range lands in and adjacent to national 

forests 299 

Factors which have favored range conservation 300 

V. Its social and economic function 301 

In watershed protection 

Watersheds of the virgin range 303 

The flood and erosion menace of recent years 305 

Floods 306 

Erosion 308 

Causes of accelerated erosion and floods _ 314 

Climate 314 

Soils 315 

Topography 315 

Vegetation. 316 

Ownership or control of land as a contributing factor in 

accelerating run-off and erosion 325 

The economic and social consequence of accelerated run-off 

erosion 326 

Soil fertility destroyed 327 

Irrigation water supply and improvements threatened. 328 

Costly floods _._-____ 335 

Municipal watersheds - 335 

Water power depends on continuous stream flow .___ 336 

Recreation and wildlife resources imperiled 336 

"Black blizzards" of the plains spread destruction 336 

Contrasting watershed and grazing values 337 

The way out restoration 338 

As a home for wildlife 341 

The wildlife problem 341 

Wildlife a product of environment 341 

How reduction in range area and its depletion reduced 

wildlife 342 

Restriction of area available for wildlife 343 


V. Its social and economic function Continued. 

As a home for wildlife Continued 

Range depletion 344 

Other changes in habitat 346 

Effect of environmental changes intensified by overutiliza- 

tion of wildlife resource 348 

Reduced wildlife presents an important and neglected 

problem 349 

Defects in theories adopted in wildlife conservation 351 

Wildlife not regarded as a crop 351 

Wildlife treated apart from environment 352 

Wildlife refuges not universal solution 353 

Transplanting of wildlife 354 

Lack of basic knowledge of wildlife a handicap 355 

Wildlife administration not handled as a biological 

Sroblem 355 
dlife management under legal pattern self-defeat- 
ing 355 

Vital importance of environment proved by national- 
forest experiment 355 

Major problems in wildlife management 

In supplying areas for recreation . 363 

The social need 363 

Economic considerations 365 

The elements of recreational value in the western range 

States , __ 368 

The lesson of the national parks and national forests 

Future requirements 

As an integrated pait of western agriculture 377 

Introduction 377 

The magnitude of western agriculture 378 

Diverse patterns of western agriculture 379 

Specialized crop farming 379 

Crop farming and range livestock grazing 379 

Regional characteristics of crop- and range-land agri- 
culture.-.. 386 

Dependent population 391 

Metropolitan business centers. 393 

Bonds between western agriculture and the Middle West 

and South 393 

Effects of maladjusted land uses and of range depletion 394 

Dry farming or range husbandry 394 

Other maladjustments 398 

Effects of range depletion on integrated western agri- 
culture 400 

Range land submarginal for private ownership 411 

Naturally low productive capacity of the range 411 

Drought or other climatic hazards 412 

Accessibility to market 412 

Taxes and tax delinquency 413 

Cost of restoration and rehabilitation 414 

Use of public range concealed submarginality 414 

Unsatisfactory social conditions 415 

Other considerations 415 

Greater security possible from balanced agriculture 415 

The problem of integration of western agriculture 418 

VI. Program...... _____ 419 

The probable future use and ownership of range lands 421 

The problems of use 421 

The background 421 

The problem of uneconomically cropped land 422 

The problem of coordinating range use with the national 

agricultural-adjustment and land-use programs 423 

Other use adjustment problems 423 

The problems of private ownership 424 

Ownership pattern causes, effects, and responsibility . , 424 

Why should the public be interested? 425 

The solution must be a joint undertaking of private and 

public ownership - 427 


VI. Program Continued. 

The probable future use and ownership of range lands Con. 

The problem of private ownership Continued Paff 
The possible means of public assistance to strengthen 

private range-land ownership 427 

Inadequacy of data prevents accurate determination of 

size of problems 432 

Estimated shifts in range lands submarginal for private 

ownership ._ 433 

The basis for estimating needed shifts from private to 

public ownership 433 

Rating of opportunity for private management in 

different forage types 436 

Prospective public acquisition 438 

Estimated shifts in private range lands with high public 

values 440 

To restore and conserve watershed values 440 

To protect wildlife 444 

To round out national forests and grazing districts 445 

The net area to be acquired 445 

Change in usable range area 446 

Problems of public ownership 447 

The problem of unreserved Federal range lands 447 

The problem of State-owned range lands 447 

The problem of tax-reverted lands 447 

Division of responsibility between States and Federal 

Government in range-land ownership 448 

The process of solution of ownership and use problems 449 

The administration of public range lands 451 

National forests and grazing-district lands 4 52 

Multiple use of resources 453 

Range management 455 

Integration of public range lands with agriculture 457 

Intermingled lands and isolated tracts 460 

Boundary adjustments 462 

Machinery of administration 462 

Costs and returns 465 

Unification of range administration in one department 467 

Correlation in administration 467 

Why the Forest Service is in the Department of Agri- 
culture 467 

Relation of Federal range to other agricultural re- 
sources 468 

Forest and range land management a function of agri- 
culture 469 

Functions of the Department of Agriculture 470 

Functions of the Department of the Interior 471 

Department of Agriculture best fitted to administer 

Federal forest and range lands__. ... 471 

Program for Indian range land 473 

Range conservation 474 

Machinery of range administration 475 

Multiple use 475 

Range improvements 476 

Net results of program 477 

State, county, and municipal range lands 477 

Legislation needed 481 

Private ownership land and livestock 483 

Present condition of private lands 483 

What private and public agencies can do to stabilize private 

ownership 483 

Stewardship of land 484 

Submarginal lands 485 

Development of sound economic units 487 

Inflationary land values 491 

Range management, animal husbandry, and game 

management. 492 

Control of production ._ 495 


VI. Program Continued. 

Private ownership land and livestock Continued. 

What private and public agencies can do to stabilize private 
ownership Continued. 

Markets 496 

Credits 496 

Taxation 497 

Research and extension 498 

Improving rural social and economic conditions 498 

The management of range lands 501 

A program for domestic livestock production 503 

Systems of grazing 503 

Range rehabilitation 504 

Pests, diseases, and poisonous plant eradication 506 

Grazing capacity 507 

Proper season of use 510 

Class of stock 511 

Distribution of stock 511 

Need for management plans 513 

Potential contribution from the range 514 

A program for watershed protection 515 

Restoration during grazing use usually sufficient 515 

Artificial erosion control needed in some cases 516 

Responsibility for watershed protection 517 

A program for wildlife 518 

Jurisdictional problems 519 

Refuges and santuaries 519 

A program for recreation 521 

A program for forest ranges 522 

Additional information A basic need 522 

Research and extension program 523 

Why range research and extension? 523 

Major lines of research required 524 

Range management 524 

Artificial revegetation 52 7 

Watershed management 528 

Range economics 529 

Wildlife 529 

Animal husbandry 530 

Entomology 530 

Coordinated research 530 

Extension 531 

Responsibility for and cost of research and extension re- 
quired 531 

Present expenditures 532 

Proposed expenditures 533 

Legislation and costs 535 

Problems requiring Federal legislative action 535 

Problems affecting public domain and grazing districts.- 535 
Problems of transferring private lands to Federal 

ownership 538 

Simplification of boundary changes 541 

Problems in Federal assistance to private owners 542 

The problem of managing wildlife on Federal lands 544 

Problems requiring State legislative action 544 

The joint problem of State and Federal Governments to 

work cooperatively _ 548 

Costs __ __ 548 

The job on Federal lands 549 

The job on State and county lands 552 

The job on private lands 553 

Research and extension 554 

Literature cited 557 

Appendix 567 

Southern forest ranges 567 

Alaska 581 

Range types 599 

Range species referred to in the report 600 

Index.. 605 



By EAKLB H. CLAPP, Associate Chief, Forest Service 

The western range has never been fully and clearly recognized 
as one of our great natural resources along with forests, soil, wildlife, 
coal, oil, iron, and other minerals. 

It is not surprising, therefore, that the intrinsic value and im- 
portance of the range resource to the West and to the entire country 
has been seriously underestimated or entirely overlooked. Neither 
is it surprising that the general public, many conservationists, and 
even many western stockmen have no real appreciation of the ex- 
tent to which the range has been neglected and abused, what the 
consequences have been, and how these consequences have already 
affected and will in the future continue to affect human welfare. 

Outside of the range country the general public and even many 
conservationists have gained much of what they know from fiction. 
They have a hazy, distorted picture of the glamour of the cattle 
country, of something far removed, unique, and picturesque which 
they recognize as having colored all western thought and life. 

The western stockman has been too close and too much a part of 
all that has happened fully to grasp results, trends, and causes. 
The changes in the resource, ordinarily deterioration, have often been 
too insidious and too obscure to divert attention from what seemed 
to be the immediate and compelling problems of livelihood under 
strenuous competition which all too often in the early days became 
open warfare. If he has known and cared, he has often been the 
victim of circumstances over which, regardless of how he struggled, 
he had little control. Or he has coupled his recognition with an 
incorrigible optimism which counted on plentiful rains in the season 
to come, or a turn in the market to make everything right in his 
livestock business and also with the range itself. 

Under such cirumstances only the inspired leadership which has 
stirred the public to action on some other resources could have been 
effective, and such leadership has been conspicuously absent. 

Piecemeal attacks on the range problem have been made in the 
past, but this report has been prepared in the belief that only a com- 
prehensive attack on the entire range problem will suffice. Many 
conditions, forces, and problems are common to the entire western 
range country. Only through consideration of the whole is it possi- 
able to obtain a background and a grasp which will permit sound 
and lasting remedial action. 1 

1 The report Is based on a large amount of information already available in the Forest 
Service, together with that which could be obtained readily from State, Federal, and 
other agencies, and, where time permitted, by special surveys. Where exact informa- 
tion was not available the best approximations possible under the circumstances have 
been made. While great accuracy cannot be claimed for these it is believed that the 
findings are substantially correct. 

6494636 2 1 


Furthermore, such consideration must begin with the forage and 
soil which constitute the range resource itself, take into account 
their original and present condition, and how they have been and 
should be used. It should extend into the now closely related crop 
agriculture and devote at least passing notice to dependent or closely 
related services and activities. It must, however, have human beings 
and their permanent welfare as its chief concern and end objective. 

Obviously no attempt could be made to cover all American agri- 
culture of which western range and crop lands are a part. As the 
broader problems of American agriculture are worked out, the solu- 
tions will undoubtedly reflect into and modify in greater or less 
degree the conclusions reached in this survey. 

The western range is largely open and unfenced, with control of 
stock by herding; where fenced, relatively large units are enclosed. 


>~ -J. ,1 

) < 
/ ! 


r J-X. 

7 ! 
S I 

^ Y s- 

J \~~- 

"i i i 

The Range Area 

^\ t; ^>^"^^^ L \ 

\ jf 'Boundary of X { 

X^ Range Territory \j 


The 728 million-acre range area discussed in this report, roughly three-fourths of the 
land area west of an irregular line extending south through the Dakotas to Mexico 
and nearly 40 percent of the total land area of the United States, is an indication of 
the magnitude of the range problem. 

It supports with few exceptions only native grasses and other forage 
plants, is never fertilized or cultivated, and can in the main be 
restored and maintained only through control of grazing. It con- 
sists almost exclusively of lands which, because of relatively meager 
precipitation or other adverse climatic conditions, or rough topog- 
raphy, or the lack of water for irrigation, cannot successfully be 
used for any other form of agriculture. 

In contrast, the improved pastures of the East and Middle West 
receive an abundant precipitation, are ordinarily fenced, utilize 
introduced forage species, follow cultivation for other crops, are 
often fertilized to increase productivity, and are renewed following 


The range area covered in this report lies to the west of an irregular 
north and south line which cuts through the Dakotas, Nebraska, 
Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas (fig. 1). The range area aggregates 
some 728 million acres out of a total land area of 975 million acres. 
Discussions of the southern and Alaskan ranges are included in the 

The Forest Service is charged with the responsibility for the 
administration of some 88 million acres of grazable land within 
the western national forests, of which 94 percent is available for 
livestock. The national forest ranges are a much more important 
link in the western range problem than their acreage alone indicates. 
The impact upon their administration of a group of increasingly 
serious problems growing out of other range lands in the public 
domain, in the grazing districts now being formed under the provi- 
sions of the Taylor Grazing Act, and in private and in State or other 
public ownerships, as well as problems in the closely related crop 
agriculture, has forced the survey which has resulted in this report. 
Such action has been essential in order to safeguard the fundamental 
conservation principles which underlie national forest administra- 
tion and even the integrity of the national forests themselves. 


There is perhaps no darker chapter nor greater tragedy in the his- 
tory of land occupancy and use in the United States than the story 
of the western range. First it was "the Great American Desert", a 
vast and trackless waste, a barrier to the gold fields. Unexpectedly 
and almost overnight it became the potential source of great wealth 
from livestock grazing. And therein lies the key to the story. All 
of the major findings which constitute the first part of this discus- 
sion have their origin in the effort to capitalize this wealth and 
convert it to human use. 


The major finding of this report at once the most obvious and 
obscure is range depletion so nearly universal under all conditions 
of climate, topography, and ownership that the exceptions serve 
only to prove the rule. 

The existing range area has been depleted no less than 52 percent 
from its virgin condition, using depletion in the sense of reduction 
in grazing capacity for domestic livestock. Practically this means 
that a range once capable of supporting 22.5 million animal units 2 
can now carry only 10.8 million. 

On nearly 55 percent of the entire range area, forage values have 
been reduced by more than half. 

2 1 animal unit as used in the report is 1 cow, horse, or mule, or 5 sheep, goats, or 


Of the four classes used in evaluating the degree of depletion, ma- 
terial (26-50 percent) and severe (51-75 percent) are most extensive, 
as shown by fig. 2 and table 3, each covering more than one-third of 
the total range area. Extreme (76-100 percent) covers a little more 
than 15 percent, and moderate (0-25 percent) somewhat less. 

Boundary of 
Range Territory 


;:] Moderate Illllll 

Material Rl Extreme 



Of the depletion classes, material (26-50 percent) and severe (51-75 percent) cover 
more than seven-tenths of the entire range area. Nearly 120 million acres is in the 
extreme (76-100 percent) depletion class, and of the 95 million acres in the moderate 
(0-25 percent) depletion class probably not more than half is in a thoroughly satis- 
factory condition. 

The depletion consists of the disappearance largely or altogether 
from many parts of the range of such valuable forage plants as the 
bluebunch wheatgrass, the giant wild-rye, ricegrass, dropseed, saca- 
ton, and California oatgrass. It consists of the replacement of 
palatable and nutritious plants such as prairie beardgrass and sand- 


grass by the unpalatable sand sagebrush and yucca, wild-rye by 
greasewood, winterfat by shadscale and rabbitbrush. It consists 
also of the replacement of perennial grasses by much less nutritious 
annual grasses and weeds. It consists of the invasion of foreign 
plants, such as the worthless star thistle in California, the nearly 
worthless Russian thistle now found everywhere, the poisonous Kla- 
math weed, and only a few of limited value, such as cheatgrass for 

Desert Shrub 



Chaparral _ 

Open Forests 


150 100 50 


25 50 



All range types except two are depleted by half or more. Of the two, tall grass is small 
in area and reflects especially favorable conditions, and the open forest benefits from a 
large area under national forest management. 

only a few weeks each year, and the alfileria of southern Arizona 
and California, for a few weeks in wet years. 

Still further, depletion consists of marked reduction in density of 
the better forage plants, with the perennial gramas and fescues as 
an example. The ordinarily desirable thickening of forests by re- 
production and the expansion of brush areas has to some extent also 
reduced the space for forage plants. 

What is true of the range as a whole is also true of the 10 broad 
types (figs. 25, 30, and 34) into which it has been divided for the 
purposes of this report, as shown in table 1 and figure 3. 


TABLE 1. Area of range types ana forage depletion 




Tall grass 

1,000 acres 
18, 513 


Short grass 



Pacific bunchgrass .. . 



Semidesert grass 

89, 274 


Sagebrush grass 

96 528 


Southern desert shrub _--.-. ________ .. _ _ 

26, 896 


Salt-desert shrub 

40, 858 





Woodland-chaparral _ _ 



Open forest 

126 367 



i 728, 196 


Does not include 1,217,000 acres in national parks. 

The salt-desert shrub type, reduced by 71 percent, and the tall 
grass, by 21 percent, constitute the extremes. Furthermore, nearly 
three-fourths of the tall-grass type is in the moderate depletion 
class, and nine-tenths of the area of the salt-desert shrub is in the 

Public Domain & 
Grazing Districts 

300 200 100 



Ranges of all ownerships and forms of control except the national forests have been 
depleted by half or more. The national forests 30 years ago were probably in even 
worse condition than the public domain then was because of the comparative abundance 
of water on the national forests and of the general shortage of summer range. 

severe- and extreme-depletion classes. The salt-desert shrub, sage- 
brush grass, southern-desert shrub, and piiion- juniper ranges now 
rate about a third of the virgin range. 

The reductions in productivity are all the more staggering 
because of the magnitude of the areas involved. 

Ownership, first nearly all Federal, has become more than half 
private (table 2 and fig. 4). 


TABLE 2. Range areas and depletion by ownerships 

Ownership or control 

Range area 


Area avail- 
able for 
range use 


/, 000 acres 
87, 954 
127, 792 
48, 391 
22, 997 
65, 516 
375, 546 



/,000 acres 
127, 792 
65, 084 
375, 546 

Public domain grazing districts - -- 

Other - - 

Private - -- - 

Total --- 

728, 196 



720, 950 

As might be expected, both ownership, and the form of control 
within ownership, have had a marked influence on depletion. The 


National Forests- 

Public Domain and 
Grazing Districts.. 

State and County- 

All Ownerships 

75 50 25 25 50 75 



The contrast between the national forests and other forms of ownership or control is in 
essence a contrast between an attempt at range conservation and practically unre- 
stricted use. 

Federal public domain, a no man's land without management prior 
to the creation of the grazing districts, is in the worst condition, with 
depletion of 67 percent. Very surprisingly, fee-simple private own- 
ership has been so little of an incentive to the preservation of the 
range resource that depletion stands at 51 percent. Indian, State, 
and county holdings have fared no better than private lands. Na- 
tional-forest ranges make the best showing, but despite 30 years' 
management are still 30 percent below virgin conditions. 

Whether range conditions are on the up or down grade may be 
even more significant than the extent of present depletion. Here 
also the public domain has the blackest record, with nearly 95 per- 
cent of the total area depreciating during the last 30 years and only 
2 percent improving (fig. 5). Over three-fourths of the 



forest range has improved during the same period and only 5 per- 
cent has declined. For all other ownerships, largely private lands, 
from 75 to 88 percent have declined and 7 to 10 percent improved 
in value. Of all classes of ownership and forms of control only 
the national forests show any appreciable gain in range conditions. 

In a nutshell, the white man's toll of the western range for 50 
years, or for less than 100 at the outside, is reduced grazing capacity 
of more than half. Still further, 76 percent of the entire range has 
declined appreciably during the last 30 years and only 16 percent 
has improved (fig. 6). 

The virgin range was characterized by wide differences in its vege- 
tation because of marked climatic, soil, topographic, and other varia- 
tions to be expected in an area of such size. The vegetation ranged 
all the way from the dense sod of the tall-grass prairies with grass 
under the most favorable conditions as high as a horse's back, to the 



Upgrade __ 








Range resource history of the last 30 years may be summed up in continuing depletion 
of more than three-fourths of the entire area, but improvement on less than one-sixth. 

low, sparse, scattered clumps of the southern desert shrub. But 
nearly all ranges produced an abundance of palatable and nutritious 
plants suitable for pasturage, many of which held their values in 
curing on the stem. 

Before white settlement, the range was used only by game, the 
great numbers of which are attested by the reports of all the early 
explorers. Despite these numbers and climatic cycles, and drought 
periods which were undoubtedly as severe as any of recent years, the 
range did maintain itself, except for natural variation and for local- 
ized and temporary overgrazing, and would have continued to dp so 
if the white man had not upset its natural and fairly stable equilib- 
rium. Truly, man has shown less wisdom and vision in the use of 
the range resource than did uncontrolled nature. His greatest 
achievement seems to have been the removal of the natural checks 
and balances which had maintained the virgin range over thousands 
of years. 




A second major finding is a clarification of the causes of the 
deterioration and destruction of the range. Outstanding among the 
causes has been the traditional American attitude toward all natural 
resources. The exuberance of the American spirit has manifested 
itself, among other ways, in the lavish use of all the great natural 
resources with which the United States has been so richly endowed. 
The philosophy of inexhaustibility and its corollary that no pro- 
vision need be made for either wise use or perpetuation has been 
almost universal, and as a result all have been wasted or destroyed 
with all the resourcefulness and ingenuity of a virile people. Other 
peoples have destroyed their natural resources but none have shown 
greater efficiency in the process. Like most other resources, the 
range seemed limitless. For years it was free and an enormous area 
still is. To a greater or less extent livestock grazing was once re- 
garded as a transitional phase of land use which would lead to a 
more intensive development, and this minimized the need for care 
of the resource. To the western stockman livestock production has 
been very largely a business in which for one reason or another 
profit has been the compelling motive. Immediate profit loomed 
so large that care and restraint seemed far-fetched and visionary. 

For such reasons as these the conservation of the forage and soil 
resource has been largely in the background. It should be recog- 
nized that most of the other causes of depletion outlined hereafter 
go back fundamentally to this traditional attitude. 


The American immigrant brought with him a traditional knowl- 
edge of crop agriculture worked out over many centuries under com- 
parable European conditions. The western pioneer frequently had 
the background of adaptations of this knowledge to American con- 
ditions following years of trial in the East and Middle West. 

To the western pioneer, however, the grazing of the western range 
was an entirely new form of agriculture. Its use by two or three 
generations of stockmen has afforded far too short a time to develop 
satisfactory management by large-scale trial and error. The com- 
plex biological relationships between plants themselves, between 
plants, climate, and soils, and between forage and grazing animals 
were beyond the ken of the range user. 

Despite this, however, the resourceful and self-reliant stockman 
felt absolute confidence in his own ability to meet all requirements, 
and he neither asked for nor, except in a minor degree, received 
the benefits of research into range-management problems, the only 
other means of acquiring the necessary information. Research in 
consequence has been meager, has among Federal agencies been 
concentrated largely in three bureaus of the Department of Agri- 
culture, has at the State agricultural experiment stations dealt 
largely with animal husbandry and range economics, and has in 
general lagged far behind requirements. 

In the complex problem which we are more and more recognizing 
range use to be, and without the benefits of technical knowledge, the 
stockman has inevitably gone seriously wrong. 



Lacking a sound basis for judging grazing capacity he has over- 
stocked the range almost from the start. How else explain the 
depletion of the range as a whole by more than half? Climate is the 
only other possible explanation, and there is more evidence that the 
western climate has not changed than that it has. Furthermore, 
there are many specific examples of well-managed ranges on which 
forage conditions have improved, while adjacent overstocked ranges 
with identical climate have deteriorated. 

After taking into account supplemental feeds and irrigated pas- 
tures, which supported 17 percent of the range livestock in 1900 and 
38 percent in 1935, the number on range lands reached peaks of 
approximately 19.9 and 20.7 million animal units in 1900 and 1920, 
respectively. Since 1920 there has been a declining tendency, with a 
sharp drop to about 17.3 million animal units in 1935, a reduction of 
about 17 percent since 1920. 

The range portion of the Plains States, the 11 far Western States 
as a group, and most of them separately, show similar downward 
trends from different peak years. 



6 12 



Excessive stocking has been one of the prime factors in range depletion, and until about 
6.5 million animal units of surplus stock are removed the range will continue on the 

The downward trends do not in themselves tell the whole story, 
because many herds are being carried on a bare maintenance basis by 
subsisting chiefly on low-value plants. Overgrazing for an extended 
period destroys the choicest range species first, and the livestock turn 
progressively to the poorer and poorer plants which, although grazed, 
are not as nutritious as the original vegetation. Accordingly the 
full extent of damage to the range often has not been fully reflected 
in decreased grazing capacity. Overgrazing has left its earmarks 
in the scarcity of the choicest range plants and the predominance of 
low-value and worthless plants, in dead or partly dead stumps or 
stubby branches of shrubs, in noticeable damage to tree reproduction, 
and in erosion and barren soil. Such earmarks are now conspicuous 
on several hundred million acres of range lands and particularly 
on those depleted in excess of 50 percent. 

If any other evidence of excessive stocking is required it is neces- 
sary only to compare the 17.3 million animal units dependent on the 
range in 1935 with the estimated grazing capacity of 10.8 million 
animal units (fig. 7). In other words, it would be necessary to 


reduce present stocking by nearly 38 percent to meet the actual graz- 
ing capacity. Even humid pastures could not stand up under such 
abuse; it is far too much to expect of semiarid ranges. 

But the evidence of overstocking does not stop even here. Aver- 
age annual death losses on overstocked and overgrazed ranges of 
as much as 9 percent among sheep and 5 to 7 percent among cattle 
are practically double the losses under conservative grazing and 
good feed. Calf crops on overstocked, overgrazed ranges are often 
only a half or two-thirds of what they are under good conditions. 
Other specific evidence, historical and otherwise, of overstocking 
and depletion, could be multiplied almost indefinitely. 

And overstocking is only one, and the most serious, of the de- 
fective rule-of-thumb forms of management which have hastened 
and accentuated depletion. Poor distribution of livestock, concen- 
tration on key areas such as mountain meadows and around water- 
ing places, grazing at the wrong time of year, faulty balance between 
classes of animals and type of range, grazing two or more classes 
on ranges already overstocked with one, have contributed in varying 
degree and very largely in the aggregate. 

When the stockman realized what rule-of-thumb practices were 
doing to the range, he often was, or thought he was, under the 
compulsion of other causes which stayed his hand. 


A national land policy unsuited to the semiarid and mountain 
grazing lands of the West has been still another major cause in the 
depletion of the range forage. This policy has grown out of such 
factors as : 

1. Belief in universal private ownership of land and the attempt 
to pass as much land as possible to private ownership regardless of 
its character. 

2. In this attempt, the practically unmodified application to the 
radically different semiarid West of land laws suited to the humid 
East and Middle West. 

3. The failure to classify land as a basis for alienation according 
to the economic suitablility for private ownership or to its highest 
form of use. 

4. The character of the interpretation and administration of the 
land laws. 

The first alienation to private ownership occurred in the Southwest 
before American acquisition, as Spanish and Mexican land grants, 
and amounted to more than 45 million acres. These grants were 
based on the philosophy of a landed aristocracy rather than that of 
democratic equality, which was one fundamental basis of American 
land disposal. Although averaging several thousand acres each, 
they have not generally resulted in good range management and 
are depleted almost as badly as the surrounding lands. 

Homesteading in the West dates back largely to the homestead 
law of 1862. More liberal amendments and new laws have included 
the enlarged homestead law of 1909, the Kinkaid Act of 1904, and 
finally the stockraising homestead law of 1916. 

Neither the maximum of 640 acres available under the stockraising 
law nor the 160 acres under the original Homestead Act offered the 


remotest possibility of supporting a family under range use. The 
attempt at classification, made under the Stockraising Act, finally 
listed practically everything short of absolute desert. The inef- 
fectiveness of the classification has been paftly responsible for 
abandonment before the passage of title of some 28 million acres 
out of the 68 million acres entered. Under the Homestead Acts up 
to 1935, 1.4 million entries were made for nearly 240 million acres, 
a substantial part of which was in the range country and more than 
half of the western homestead area was range land. 

Railroad and wagon-road grants, totaling more than 101 million 
acres of odd-numbered sections of range and other lands, checker- 
boarded wide strips across the West and further complicated range 
use and contributed to depletion. The railroad land policy has 
been to cash in as fast as possible by sale, and about 65 million 
acres of range land, mostly in small tracts, has gone into other 
private ownership, leaving more than 19 million acres of the poorest 
grant land unsold, most of it range, and in the original checkerboard 
pattern. For this their policy has generally been to get the maxi- 
mum current revenue through leasing. Most of the railroads have 
recently reversed this policy, however, and are working toward some 
stable and orderly use of the range resource which they still retain. 

Texas retained its public lands and has based its land-disposal 
policy on that of the Federal Government, except that considerably 
larger areas have gone to single owners. Depletion has, however, 
been much the same as on smaller private holdings. 

Federal grants to the other western States were for common 
schools, institutions, and internal improvements. Through selection 
under institutional grants and by use of the various lieu-selection 
laws there has been considerable consolidation. Most State land 
was, however, in scattered sections. It has been sold where the legal 
price could be obtained, and the remaining area leased for the maxi- 
mum current revenue. These lands have been handled by agencies 
whose primary function was disposal and revenue collection, and in 
no instance by agricultural agencies. A total of about 33 million 
acres has gone into private ownership. Since stockmen have fol- 
lowed their own inclinations in the handling of leased State lands, 
the extent of depletion is practically identical with that on lands 
in private ownership. 

The 149.4 million acres of range land available for grazing left 
in the public domain, grazing districts, and other withdrawals is 
the poorest west of the Mississippi. It is the land which for its 
surface rights no one would take as a gift or purchase under the 
homestead or other land laws. Much of it is badly scattered. Open 
without restriction or restraint to all or to any who could take or 
hold, no other class of range land has suffered more seriously. Along 
with nearly three-fourths of the forage has often gone the top sou 
on which future recovery must depend. 

The sum total of the effects of past land policy on range land has 

1. A crazy-quilt ownership pattern, such as that shown in figures 
63 and 64, made up of several hundred thousand small farm or 
ranch units, widely scattered State holdings and railroad lands, 
the foreclosures of insurance and investment companies, banks, etc., 
isolated Federal public domain tracts, and State and county tax- 


delinquent lands all of this almost impossible to handle effectively 
because of size or surrounding holdings and leading inevitably to 
overgrazing, depletion, and social and economic instability of the 
dependent population. 

2. The passage to private ownership of an enormous area of land, 
the size of which is not yet accurately known, that is either sub- 
marginal even for range use by private operators because of low 
productivity, etc., or has high public values such as watershed pro- 
tection which are difficult or impossible for private owners to 

3. The passage to private ownership and encouragement of dry 
and other farming of some 50 million acres of relatively good range 
land that is submarginal for crops. Nearly 25 million acres have 
already been abandoned for cultivation and at least 11 million acres 
additional constitute acute problem areas. On all of this area the 
range has been destroyed and will be of little use for years to come 
unless reseeded. 

4. The passage to private ownership of key areas, such as water 
holes, giving control of very much larger areas of public land, and 
as spring range of which there is a serious shortage. 

5. Tax delinquency on the ranges submarginal for private owner- 
ship, and delinquency on and abandonment of the dry-farming areas 
which the meager data available indicates to be excessive. 

6. Depletion so serious that decades of time and enormous ex- 
penditures will be required for restoration, not only of the range 
which has passed to private ownership but also of that outside of 
the national forests which has remained in public ownership. 

Among the favorable features of Federal-land policy from the 
standpoint of range depletion has been the creation of the national 
forests, and the belated provision for a better handling of the Indian 
lands and a part of the public domain. 


One of the greatest financial handicaps of the western stockman 
in comparison with his middle-western competitor is a serious freight 
and marketing differential. On an 1,100-pound steer, for example, 
Illinois has an advantage in the Chicago market over Idaho of 
nearly $8.50, and over Nebraska of about $2.85 (fig. 8). The out- 
standing competitive opportunity which the western stockman has 
to offset this handicap is cheap feed from natural ranges. On the 
average range feed worth $1 or less will support an animal satisfac- 
torily as long as hay or other supplemental feed costing $5 to $10 
or even more (fig. 9). 

Instead of maintaining fully this natural advantage of cheap 
range feed, however, the western stockman has ordinarily followed 
one, or usually more, of three other courses which have actually 
increased his handicap. In all of these he has tried to carry too 
many stock. Hoping to reduce costs of production he has over- 
grazed and destroyed his cheap range feed. He has bought crop 
lands and grown and used excessive amounts of high-cost hay and 
other supplemental feeds. He has purchased range lands often un- 
der competitive conditions which have inflated values, increased his 
capital investments, and hence the costs of production. 



The investment in land in the livestock industry is so high in many 
cases that the livestock or converting part of the enterprise cannot 
earn a profit. Overcapitalization in land supplemented by the leas- 
ing of land in competition, the purchase or growing of relatively 
costly supplemental feed, and exorbitant interest on borrowed funds 
have all contributed to high production costs. In Montana, for 
example, the ratio of investment in land, improvements, etc., to the 
ewe value per head was 0.5 to 1 in 1890, but had increased to 4.7 to 
1 in 1932. In an attempt to restore the balance between land and 
herd investments and to reduce production costs, stockmen have 
ordinarily increased their herds and overstocked and depleted their 

Unfavorable credit facilities have added to the financial difficul- 
ties of the livestock producer. Boom credit has been so easy that it 
has almost been forced on him and has contributed to overexpansion 
in both land and herds. During depressions when he has most 
needed credit it was difficult or impossible to obtain, and he has had 
to dump stock on glutted markets or frequently to hold them on 
ranges already seriously overstocked. 




Marketing costs, mainly freight, are one of the most serious financial handicaps of nearly 
all the range country. Idaho's handicap over Illinois in the Chicago market of nearly 
$8.50 on an 1,100-pound steer, can be met successfully only by some decided compensa- 
tory advantage. 

Beyond this, loans have been predicated almost entirely on live- 
stock as the basic resource without taking into account the range 
upon which they fed, and this again has contributed to overstocking 
and range deterioration. Short-term loans at interest rates often as 
high as 91/2 or 10 percent have increased costs, reduced profits, and 
added to the hazards of the enterprise and its disregard of the basic 

Widely fluctuating markets from year to year and almost from 
week to week, have capped the climax of their financial difficulties. 
Depressed and glutted markets in particular have helped to keep 
stock on the range where already numbers were far in excess of 
what it could support. 

Accordingly the financial and market set-up of the stockman has 
always been difficult and sometimes almost impossible. That this 



situation has always borne hardest on the holder of land submarg- 
inal for private ownership, the user of badly depleted range, and the 
unit which was uneconomic because it was too large or too small, 
or was poorly balanced between range and crop land, and between 
land and herd, requires no proof. 

With the financial cards stacked against him to a greater or less 
extent the range user has made the fatal mistake of trying to break 
even by crowding more stock on the range. As a result the range 
deteriorated still more rapidly and this in turn accentuated his 
financial handicap. 

In this involved and ordinarily adverse situation the stockman 
has not been entirely a free agent. His course of action may not 
have been sufficiently aggressive and constructive and he undoubted- 
ly failed to appreciate or may have seriously underestimated the 
bearing of it all on his basic resource and what the end result would 
be. However, in part at least, he has been the victim of circum- 
stances far beyond his own control. 


Cheap range feed, the one best answer to the marketing differential, has unfortunately 
been largely lost under unrestricted grazing, practically universal depletion, and ex- 
cessive use of the several times more expensive supplemental feeds. 


Last, but not least, among the primary causes of depletion is the 

Precipitation in the western range country averages less than 15 
inches, or only about one-third that of the East. Excepting the 
higher mountain areas, it varies from about 15 inches in the short- 
grass plains to less than 5 inches in the southern-desert shrub type 
of the Mohave-Gila Desert of the Southwest. 

For single years or, often, for groups of years it falls below the 
average. An extreme of 2 to 4 years out of 10 are drought years 
over much of the Southwest. Severe droughts often lasting several 
years have occurred over much of the West in every decade since 


The volume of range forage produced depends upon climate and 
especially upon the amount of precipitation. At the extreme, the 
reduction in forage production in very dry as compared with favor- 
able years may reach over 90 percent in the semidesert grass and 
southern desert shrub types in New Mexico and Arizona. Over 
large areas the fluctuation may be as much as 80 percent in succes- 
sive years. Under even the most favorable climatic conditions the 
recovery in production is not complete in a single year, and under- 
average conditions probably requires from 3 to 5 years. Under 
adverse conditions it requires still longer. 

Neither the climate nor the amount of precipitation can be con- 
trolled by man, but the numbers of stock on the range can. The 
almost universal failure to vary the numbers of stock with such fluc- 
tuations in the amount of forage produced, or to stock below pro- 
duction in average years, has been one of the primary causes of 
depletion. For example, from 3 to 10 times as many valuable forage 
plants died during the 1931-35 drought on heavily grazed as on 
adjoining lightly grazed areas in western Utah and southwestern 
Wyoming. The records show steadily increasing numbers of live- 
stock on the range over entire States during periods of declining 
precipitation and hence decreasing forage stand, until the severity 
of the drought and the scarcity of the feed compelled drastic reduc- 
tions in numbers by forced sales or by high starvation losses. Such 
catastrophes have occurred in most Western States during every 
severe drought period of the last 50 years, including that of 1934, 
when the distress was alleviated only by Federal livestock pur- 
chases which reached the staggering total of more than 11 million 
head of cattle, sheep, and goats, at a cost exceeding $100,000,000. 
This was more than one-sixth of the total number of beef cattle, 
sheep, and goats in the 17 Western States on January 1, 1934. 


The growing of domestic livestock on open ranges, their produc- 
tion on fenced pastures, and the production of farm products on cul- 
tivated land are merely different phases of agriculture. But the ex- 
tent to which range use is related to and, in fact, an integral part of 
western agriculture is another major finding of this report. 

Range use by domestic livestock in the West probably began in 
New Mexico about 20 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth. 
It was not until nearly 280 years later, with the cattle boom of the 
eighties, that heavy use over large territories became a major factor 
in range depletion. Cattle and sheep had increased to an early peak 
in California about 1875. From 1870 to 1880 all the other Western 
and, especially, the Plains States showed exceedingly rapid increases 
in number of cattle. Texas chiefly, with more than 4.5 million cattle 
during the seventies, supplied the other Plains States. Sheep spread 
rapidly over the western ranges between 1890 and 1910. 

Irrigated crops as an adjunct to range use were grown along the 
Rio Grande from about 1700 on. Even in the 1850's during the early 
stages of the range livestock industry, which at first was almost 
wholly pastoral, crop farming began in California and Utah. The 
first homestead patent was granted in 1869 in Nebraska. The cut- 


ting of native hay began in the seventies. In parts of Idaho range 
livestock grazing proved very difficult until crop agriculture pro- 
duced the feed needed to carry stock through the winter. 

Beginning in 1910 large irrigation projects have been an impor- 
tant factor in furnishing supplemental feed and concentrates for 
feeding and fattening range livestock. The 242,908 farm units and 
93,797,000 acres of land in farms in the 11 far Western States in 
1900 had by 1930 more than doubled in number of units and in 

In sum, grazing, which at the beginning was largely an inde- 
pendent and pastoral enterprise, and which after a long, slow start 
expanded ahead of and more rapidly than crop agriculture, has now 
become vitally dependent upon crop production. The latter also 
started early but has grown more slowly, and reached large propor- 
tions several decades later. 

The combined range and crop agriculture now constitutes a sub- 
stantial part of the total wealth of the West. The 1930 census values 
western farm lands and buildings, and farm and range livestock, 
machinery, etc. (including privately owned range and excluding irri- 
gation improvements), at more than 12.9 billion dollars, or 23 per- 
cent of the comparable total for the United States. Western crop 
products for the same year were worth over 1.5 billion dollars and 
livestock products nearly 480 million dollars. In addition to beef 
and mutton, hides, etc., 'the range territory produced 75 percent of 
the 1930 national production of wool and mohair, or more than 276 
million pounds, valued at more than 82 million dollars. 

Except for the highly specialized crop farming, mostly on irri- 
gated land, and producing such products as fruits and nuts, the 
agriculture of the West is primarily an integration of range live- 
stock grazing and crop farming. 

Out of several hundred thousand separate enterprises no two per- 
haps are quite alike. They vary from the one extreme of operations 
consisting entirely of range lands used for livestock production, which 
purchase from crop farmers the supplemental and fattening feeds 
they use, to the other extreme of units devoted exclusively to crop 
farming for the production of grain or other cash crops, where the 
direct tie with the range is confined to sales of supplemental feed 
or the leasing of irrigated pasture. In between are innumerable 
combinations and variations of range lands used for livestock grazing 
and crop lands used to provide supplemental feed for range livestock 
and for many different kinds of cash crops. 

Land tenure differs fully as much, from the rapidly vanishing 
tramp sheepman who owns no range and leases little, to the baronial 
operator who owns outright the range and crop lands which support 
his stock throughout the year. In size, ownership may be as small 
as 5 or 10 acres of crop land, or as large as the 500,000-acre ranch, 
largely range, but with some crop land. 

Cattle, sheep, horses, and other livestock and the meat, wool, and 
other materials of which they are the source, are clearly, therefore, 
the products of range lands only in part. The diversified products 
of croplands various cereals, corn, sugar beets, cotton, flax, sor- 
ghums, hay, pasturage, etc. return cash income only in part. 
Whether sold or used directly in feeding they now constitute no less 

6494636 3 



than 35 percent of the feed required for western range livestock 
(fig. 10). 

Each major region of the West has its distinctive agricultural pat- 
tern and form of integration of range and croplands, dominated 
mainly by climate and topography, but partly also by economic con- 
ditions and tradition. These are described in detail in the report 
and repetition here would only serve to illustrate still further the tie 
between range and cropland use which is already apparent. 

Western agriculture is the direct source of livelihood for over 1 
million farm and ranch families, the principal support for another 
million families in rural towns, and the indirect support for a large 
part of the remaining population of the West. Its contributions 
extend from the farms and ranches through the small and exclusively 
agricultural communities to the larger supply towns and the metro- 




A threefold 45-year increase in the percentage of numbers of livestock on supplemental 
feeds and irrigated pastures is a salient point in the increasing integration of western 
range and cropland agriculture. 

politan centers. The grocer, druggist, miner, mechanic, lumberman, 
and banker, the stockyards, the railroads, and other transportation 
services, in fact every western activity which forms a part of the 
complex, interrelated, interdependent structure of modern civiliza- 
tion has its stake in a permanently prosperous and stable agriculture. 
The somewhat arbitrary eastern boundary of the range country is 
no limitation, however, on the tie of its agriculture with the agricul- 
tural and other industries and activities of the remainder of the 
United States. The western ranges furnish feeder and stocker cattle 
in large numbers to the Midwest, thereby offering the opportunity 
for diversification of farm products and for turning slack time into 
cash. Both the Midwest and the South sell large quantities of 
shelled corn, other grains, and cottonseed meal and cake to the West. 
The range country and the Middle West compete in supplying the 
eastern consumer with various livestock products. And these are 
only a few obvious forms of the tie between the West and the East 
in which western range and cropland and their products play so 
conspicuous a part. 



The only way to measure the value of the range is by the social 
and economic yardstick, the losses from mismanagement and abuse, 
and the contrasting benefits from wise use. The character and ex- 
tent of such losses and benefits constitute another major finding 
of this report. 

Close integration of range and cropland use carries with it an 
equally close dependence. Maladjustments or deterioration or de- 
struction in either one inescapably reacts upon the other. The 
problems of one are inevitably the problems of the other. What 
benefits one benefits both. The free play of economic forces has 
gone so far in the welding process that it is impossible to escape the 
fundamental soundness of this relationship. 


Most spectacular among the maladjustments in range land use, 
because of both the originality and daring of the attempt and the 
completeness of the failure, has been the effort to use it in dry-land 
farming. As indicated, the attempt has covered a total of over 
50 million acres, about half of which has been abandoned for culti- 
vation, much of it even before going to patent. Many of the re- 
maining occupants are on relief rolls. During favorable crop 
years it added greatly to American and world surpluses of such 
crops as wheat. 

Dry-land farming utilized some of the finest range lands and 
crowded the livestock onto lands already overstocked. It occupied 
large areas of spring ranges already too small to meet requirements 
and forced stockmen to hold their herds on pastures and hayfields 
so late in the spring that these also were more or less seriously dam- 
aged. The reoccupation of the abandoned lands by valuable forage 
plants is very slow. At least 15 million acres will have to be reseeded 
artificially at a cost so high that it probably can be borne only by 
the public. 

A more serious but less spectacular maladjustment has been the 
passage to private holders of many millions of acres of range land 
submarginal for such ownership. The fact that some 150 million 
acres of range lands in the public domain, grazing districts, and 
other withdrawals, and most of the additional 58 million in State 
ownership has not been transferred to private ownership has been 
a clear-cut recognition that some range lands are submarginal for 
private holding. 

But for range lands once transferred an entirely different psy- 
chology has held. It has taken several decades of private owner- 
ship, waves of failures following repeated efforts culminating in a 
combination of one of the worst depressions and worst droughts 
which the West has ever experienced, even to raise the question 

The question has not arisen earlier in acute form because the 
private owner has been living on a range and soil capital built up by 
natural processes over thousands of years which has only now be- 
come so largely dissipated that he must face realities; because he 
could to some extent supplement the deficiencies in his own hold- 


ings from a free public domain now passing out of the picture; 
and because of the tenacity with which the average American has 
held to the belief that he could in some way work out his own sal- 
vation on almost any land however unproductive. 

Two classes of range land fall into the submarginal class for 
private ownership: Those (1) with a very low grazing capacity 
because of poor soil or adverse climate or both, or because of severe 
depletion under conditions so adverse that many years of light 
stocking will be required for rehabilitation; those (2) on which the 
range has been destroyed by cultivation and must be restored arti- 
ficially at high cost. 

Most of the southern desert shrub type, which has a grazing ca- 
pacity of only four to five cows per section of land, illustrates the 
extreme of the first class. This poorly watered land may require the 
excessively high investments for water and fencing alone of $50 to 
$75 per cow. 

A drought expectancy of 2 to 4 years in 10 in most of the semiarid 
Southwest, as compared with 1 to 2 years or less in the sandhills 
of Nebraska, is reflected in forage production so low in the drought 
years that the only alternatives are heavy starvation losses or high 
supplemental feeding costs. 

When on many millions of acres grazing capacity has been reduced 
by 50 or 75 percent or more, and 5 to 10 acres are required to carry 
one cow for a month, the costs of production are correspondingly 
increased, and if to this is added the long period of very low stock- 
ing required for restoration, the possibilities of profit under private 
ownership may be removed for years to come. 

The vegetation destroyed by cultivation on lands of the second 
class can be restored artificially at a cost of $50 to $100 for enough 
range to carry a cow a year, and this cost may be no higher than 
that of carrying the land for the time required for natural restora- 
tion of the forage. Whether private owners can carry this burden 
on top of other production costs, except on the very best lands, is 

The adverse marketing differential already discussed holds for 
both classes of land in all of the far- western States except California, 
and accentuates low inherent productivity and depletion, or both 
combined especially because of the need for cheap range feed to 
meet midwestern competition. 

So also does taxation, which bears most heavily on the poor and 
most seriously depleted lands. The operator whose range will sup- 
port only one animal per 100 acres year long and who pays a tax 
of 5 cents per acre, which amounts to $5 per animal unit, labors 
under a handicap so serious that again serious question of the feasi- 
bility of private ownership is raised. 

High tax delinquency in many parts of the range country is at 
least a symptom of something so seriously wrong that it will not be 
cured by returning the lands to private ownership. And to all of 
this evidence must be added the low standards of living and high 
relief rolls in some range country. 

The information now available does not permit any exact deter- 
mination of the area of range land submarginal for private owner- 
ship, but it probably runs into scores of millions of acres. 


The Federal and State land legislation and policies already de- 
scribed transferred to private owners hundreds of thousands of 
range-land units too small for the support of a family. The result 
has been a long, slow, and painful adjustment in which both owners 
and the range have suffered. Between 1910 and 1930 alone the 
number of ranches in the 100- to 174-acre class in the 11 western 
States decreased by more than one-third, and the number of units 
over 1,000 acres more than doubled. 

The availability of small units encouraged oversettlement, and this 
coupled with the effort to build up units of favorable economic size 
and the growing shortage of feed led to competition for land, in- 
flated values, higher costs, and lower profits. It was a part of the 
vicious circle of more cattle in the effort to meet higher costs, and 
of more land to carry more cattle. The already depleted range lost 
the little chance it had. 

Land policies also made possible the acquisition of key areas such 
as lambing grounds, water holes, beef pastures, and holding grounds, 
so that frequently the ownership of very small tracts permitted the 
control of large areas of range. The smaller and weaker stockmen 
were at the mercy of the stronger key-area owners. 

Range depletion has had a long series of adverse effects on both 
crop and livestock growers. 

Depleted ranges and abandoned farms serve as a breeding ground 
for the beet leafhopper. In six counties in Idaho in 1934 alone this 
pest reduced the beet crop by 90 percent. Two beet-sugar factories 
did not open and 500 people were thrown out of employment for the 
manufacturing season. 

Range depletion, among other causes, has forced stockmen to the 
excessive use of supplemental crop feeds which may cost from 5 to 
10 times more than range feed. Supplemental feed has its proper 
place in finishing for the market and for winter use. And supple- 
mental feeding induced by overgrazing has in turn been one of the 
causes of depletion by keeping many more livestock on the range 
than it could carry. 

Range depletion and at times the lack of home-grown supplemental 
feed or its relatively high cost has been responsible for shipments 
of poor or half-fat beef and lambs, and this cuts heavily into possible 

The benefit of long years of effort to build up good breeding 
herds has been lost in part through lack of feed. At Miles City, 
Mont., calves from good range were 48 pounds heavier at weaning 
than those from overgrazed ranges. In New Mexico there was a 
difference between rehabilitated and heavily grazed ranges of about 
200 pounds in cow weights. 

Both calf and lamb crops are decreased and annual losses are 
increased when there is too little range forage. Chronic emergencies 
and forced sales, which are commonly due to drought and depres- 
sions, could often be minimized by ample forage and commensurate 
crop land. 

Federal feed and crop loans have been necessary on a large scale 
in part because of maladjustments and depletion. That the Novem- 
ber 1935 percentage of repayment in the western range country is 
about 44 percent as compared with 62 for the country as a whole is 



Maladjustments and depletion have caused serious decreases in 
population with correspondingly bad effects on the social and eco- 
nomic life of the communities. Fifteen representative dry-farm 
counties in six States, for example, lost from 4 to over 40 percent 
of their population in the single decade ending in 1930. 

More than enough examples have been given to show that a wide 
diversity of economic and social losses results from range depletion 
and crop- and range-land maladjustments. The greatest possible 
security should conversely result from ranges restored and main- 
tained in high productivity, from privately owned units of economic 
size with a proper balance in area and productivity of range- and 
crop-land, and from a proper distribution of land between private 
and public ownership. 


In a region of meager precipitation such as most of the West, the 
availability of water for irrigation, municipal purposes, power, etc., 



100 150 





Four-fifths of the 232 million acres which produce 85 percent of the water in the major 
western streams comes from range lands, and low precipitation makes water the 
limiting factor in nearly all western development. 

is in most cases the factor which limits development. All plans 
for agricultural and municipal security as well as for most other 
industries must take this definitely into account. 

Approximately 85 percent of the water of the principal watersheds 
of the West is derived from an area of about 232 million acres. Of 
the utmost significance is the fact that four-fifths of this important 
water-producing area is made up of range lands (fig. 11). 

An additional reason for consideration is the fact that no less 
than 589 million acres of range lands, according to the best available 
information, is eroding so seriously that the destruction which it 
causes compels attention. Still further, 352 million acres of this 
area is contributing an appreciable amount of silt to major streams 
(fig. 12). 

Watershed values have been most seriously impaired on the public 
domain and on private, lands. Approximately 149 million acres, or 
98 percent of the available public domain and minor reservations, 
is eroding more or less seriously, and 67 million acres is contributing 



silt to major streams (figs. 13 and 14). Over 80 percent of private 
land is eroding and 195 million acres is contributing silt. While 
not so extensive, erosion on State and Indian lands is also critical. 







Eighty percent of the entire range area is eroding more or less seriously, and hence 
reducing the productive capacity of the soil. Nearly half is contributing silt in dis- 
turbing quantities to major western streams, and hence impairing their value for 
irrigation, power, and municipal water supplies. 

Even on the national forests, which have a watershed objective in 
administration, 32 million acres is eroding and will require additional 



National Forests 

Public Domain, 
Grazing Dist's.etc. 

Indian Lands.- 
State and County. 


40 60 




Material erosion 

Severe erosion 


Erosion is most serious on the public domain and grazing districts, and Indian, State 
and county, and private lands are little better. Even 30 years' management has 
fallen far short of curing erosion on the national forests. 

Scientific investigations have proved beyond a doubt that the plant 
cover minimizes and often prevents erosion and floods, and con- 
versely, that depletion is a primary cause of both. 



Studies in Utah to ascertain the effects of range vegetation on 
run-off and erosion have shown that by increasing plant density 
from 16 to 40 percent, surface run-off from summer rams is reduced 
by two-thirds and erosion by more than half its former volume. 

In Idaho investigations of the effectiveness of different range types 
on surface run-off and erosion show that a plant cover of the most 
desirable forage species yielded practically no surface run-off or 
sediment, while the poorest cover yielded more than 60 percent of 
the precipitation in surface run-off and an equivalent of more than 
three-fourths of a ton of sediment per acre. 

From a barren area in Missouri over a 6-year period 123 times 
as much soil was eroded as from a sod-covered area. Denudation by 
fire near Los Angeles increased flood run-off fortyfold and erosion 
approximately a thousandfold. 

Geologic evidence in Utah has shown that recent destruction of 
plant cover has accelerated erosion and increased the number of 



National Forests 

Public Domain. 

Indian Lands 

State and County. 






While the area in private ownership contributing silt to major streams exceeds that in 
all other ownerships combined, several other ownerships or forms of control urgently 
need attention. 

floods beyond anything that had taken place in the preceding 20,000 
years. These random examples are merely representative of similar 
results obtained throughout the West. 

Floods are now increasing in frequency and severity from depleted 
western ranges, until scarcely a summer day passes when newspapers 
do not carry an account of loss of property or life. In Utah 27 
important watersheds flooded in 1932 alone, and investigation showed 
their source to have been largely on range lands eaten down to the 
bare soil, while in New Mexico and Arizona historical evidence shows 
that floods are more frequent and destructive than anything which 
occurred in the past. 

In 1922 the Palo Verde flood caused $1,000,000 damage. A Eio 
Grande flood in 1932 practically destroyed flood-protection improve- 
ments worth $5,000,000 and did more than $1,000,000 damage to 
other property. Floods in Davis County, Utah, have caused 


$1,000,000 damage since 1923. The La Crescenta flood of 1934 took 
a toll of 30 lives and did $5,000,000 damage. 

The loss of almost irreplaceable soil on the western range is as 
widespread as range depletion itself. In the mountains of all the 
western States accelerated sheet and gully erosion are stripping 
and cutting slopes and channeling meadows. Southwestern valleys 
are being trenched with great arroyos often 100 feet in depth and 
300 or more feet wide, and both mesa lands and mountain meadows 
are being ruined. The silt loads of the rivers of the Great Plains 
and the "black blizzards" of the last few years, with their threat to 
farm and industrial values and health, bear testimony to ravaged 

Silt deposits filled the small Austin Dam Reservoir in Texas in 
13 years. The Elephant Butte Dam is filling at the rate of about 
20,000 acre-feet annually. The McMillan Dam in New Mexico is now 
valuable only for diversion. The same thing is happening in greater 
or less degree in most of the reservoirs throughout the West. 

The grazing value of range watershed lands may not often exceed 
$3 per acre. The watershed value is much more difficult to deter- 
mine. Some indication of relative values may be gained, however, 
from a consideration of dependent investments. More than 5.8 bil- 
lion dollars is invested in irrigated land and improvements, as com- 
pared with about 4.1 billion dollars in range livestock and related 
ranch properties. Each of the 475 million acres of range land yield- 
ing water or contributing silt to streams supports an investment of 
$12.27 in irrigation works, lands, and facilities, and this figure would 
be still higher if the investments for power and municipal water 
supplies were added. 

Another measure of the value of the range cover, can be obtained 
by considering the loss in the productive capacity of the soil from 
erosion as a result of depletion. The fertile top layers go first. 
Several hundred million acres have already lost 1 to several inches, 
and the productive capacity may have been reduced by one-fourth 
or one-half or. more. These layers can be replaced only very slowly, 
as shown by investigations under the more favorable conditions in 
the East which indicate a rate of about 1 inch per 1,000 years. 

Fortunately, man is not helpless in this situation, black as the 
picture now is. On many of the protected municipal watersheds of 
the West and on the managed watersheds of the national forests are 
examples of arrested erosion and controlled floods which are the 
direct result of range restoration. Not only has the production of 
forage been increased but the services which watersheds should 
render in maximum flows of usable water for dependent crop agri- 
culture, in municipal water supplies, in power, in clear fishing 
streams, and in greater security to life and property have followed 
as a matter of course. 


Wildlife is one of the natural products of the range. Its present 
annual economic value is estimated at more than $90,000,000. To 
evaluate its economic significance, however, expenditures exceeding 
$40,000,000 by hunters and fishermen should be added, and, in part 
also, those by recreationists of over $155,000,000, because one of the 


intangible but chief values of wildlife is the increased recreational 
attraction and enjoyment which it affords. 

No one familiar with wildlife requirements will question the state- 
ment that the range with little or no impairment in its value for 
other uses could support a vastly larger wildlife population. So far, 
in fact, have numbers been reduced that any recital of what remains 
is in itself an indication of both tangible and intangible social and 
economic losses. 

A few outstanding examples will suffice. The former millions of 
buffalo have declined to the few thousand on reservations ; the thirty 
or forty million antelope to about 65,000; the few mountain sheep, 
goats, moose, and grizzly bear left are barely holding their own ; the 
scattered remnants of upland game birds and fur bearers are still 
declining; the reduction of waterfowl has become a matter of na- 
tional concern. Most of the big-game animals have been crowded off 
their original range into much less favorable conditions. 

The chief factors and causes which are responsible for the present 
situation, discussed in detail later, need only be listed here : 

1. The deterioration of the habitat through range depletion which 
has destroyed both food supplies and cover for land animals and 
birds and silted fishing streams. 

2. Complications growing out of the passage of large areas of land 
to private ownership under a policy which offers no incentive to the 
owner to protect and maintain wildlife. 

3. Maladjustments in land use, such as swamp drainage, that have 
attempted but failed to use for agricultural crop production land 
which would render its highest social and economic return in wild- 
life production. 

4. Unrestricted or poorly controlled hunting and fishing. 

5. A series of ill-advised or poorly handled constructive measures 
such, for example, as game preserves, transplanting, buck laws, etc., 
which have created almost as many problems as they have solved. 

6. Protection alone defeating its own purpose by leading to over- 

7. Wildlife agencies recruited on the basis of political rather than 
technical qualifications. 

8. The lack of adequate technical knowledge. 

9. The belated development of the basic concept that game man- 
agement is required, having for its purpose production as a crop 
with provision for the annual harvesting of the production or sur- 
plus, this in proper correlation with other legitimate uses of the 

The fundamental cause, however, is again the typical American 
philosophy of prodigal destruction rather than the conservation of 
natural resources. 

Public interest in wildlife has increased very rapidly during the 
last few years, the direct result of the efforts of many sportsmen's 
and other associations and of State and Federal agencies. Although 
many of these activities have not reached the fundamental problems, 
nearly all have constructive aspects. Through them, for example, 
State agencies have contributed toward the rehabilitation of the wild- 
life resource. The Biological Survey has established a number of 
migratory bird and other reservations, controlled predatory animals 
injurious both to wildlife and domestic livestock, controlled range- 


destroying rodents, and conducted research necessary as a basis for 
wildlife management. The Bureau of Fisheries and numerous State 
agencies have stocked many western streams and cooperated in their 

The national forests have had a more important effect on the 
rehabilitation of wildlife in the range country than any other meas- 
ure so far adopted, and are a concrete, although far from per- 
fect, indication of the possibilities. National forest increases, which 
for big game animals alone are about 75 percent in the last decade, 
have been brought about with very little reduction in other forms 
of use, such as livestock grazing. The reappearance of wildlife 
has undoubtedly been one of the factors responsible for over 38 
million visitors in the national forests in 1934 as compared with 
3 million in 1917. These increases have not come without difficul- 
ties growing out of rigid State laws which stood in the way of re- 
ducing surpluses regardless of whether feed was available to keep 
the game from starving, or of the legitimate requirements for live- 
stock or other forms of use, nor without other difficulties in working 
out effective cooperation between State and Federal agencies. 


During the past half century public opinion regarding the social 
necessity of outdoor recreation, not alone for the favored few but 
for all, has undergone as radical a change as that regarding bath- 
tubs and night air. People generally have learned that modern life 
makes demands for which the most practical remedy is periodic 
association with nature. The needs and the benefits are both physi- 
cal and mental. 

If increased opportunity for wholesome outdoor activities is not 
provided, existing play areas will be so crowded that only partial 
returns for expenditures of time and money can be obtained, and 
greater leisure time may not as it should contribute to health and 
happiness. The American people have developed a mobility which 
dwarfs into insignificance the outdoor spaces that can be dedicated 
exclusively to recreation. 

Eange lands, as well as others, possessing the qualities sought by 
outdoor recreationists have thus acquired economic values which 
often exceed those for other services. They are capital assets of 
their communities. They draw large sums of money that otherwise 
would not be received ; money which contributes as fully to economic 
security as that from any other source. 

People do not as a rule pay directly for the privilege of enjoying 
scenic charm or other recreational values, but they do pay indirectly 
through purchases of commodities and services for which there 
otherwise would be no local market. The recreational use of lands 
means that the market is brought to the resource without cost of 

The serious depletion of most range areas, the reduction in wild- 
life, the erosion and silting of streams, have all been reflected in 
impaired recreational values. Where originally the mind was in- 
spired by views of grass-covered and flower-studded slopes, it is 
now depressed by the sight of a terrain scored and dissected by 


erosion and only thinly covered by plants. Healthful recreation 
from hunting and fishing have also been greatly curtailed. 

Recreational use may entail changes in grazing, farming, etc.> 
against which objections may be made. All members of a com- 
munity share in its prosperity. In communities which make full use 
of all natural advantages, local demands establish good markets and 
prices, property values are increased, and local institutions are main- 
tained at higher standards. Thus the entire community, including 
the industrialists, benefit from the multiple use management of nat- 
ural resources to a degree which frequently offsets or exceeds possible 
losses from restriction in grazing or other forms of use. 

These facts are amply confirmed by a quarter century of national 
forest administration. The traditional purposes of the national 
forests were primarily utilitarian, timber production, watershed pro- 
tection, and forage for game and domestic livestock. 

But the recreational use of the national forests has grown amaz- 
ingly, as shown by the elevenfold increase in the estimated number 
of visitors to over 38 million in the 17 years ending in 1934. Some 
changes in the use of timber and ranges have been necessary on the 
one hand and some acceptance by recreationists of less than pri- 
meval conditions on the other. Actually all interests are better off. 

In the light of national-forest experience it seems inevitable that 
the administration of other publicly owned range lands, both Fed- 
eral and State, having recreational value will, if they are to serve 
the highest public interest, have to take recreational needs into ac- 
count along with those for grazing, watershed protection, and wild- 
life. That recreational use has a place on privately owned range 
lands as well is clearly shown by the present status of dude ranching. 


The small agricultural communities throughout the range coun- 
try suffer both directly and indirectly from any and all the factors 
which reduce the prosperity of, or otherwise adversely affect, either 
crop or range agriculture, as the mere listing of a few of the con- 
nections will show. The local merchants who depend largely upon 
rural trade; the mechanics and laborers; the professions such as 
medicine and law; the semipublic organizations such as churches; 
the public institutions such as schools and the public activities such 
as highway construction and maintenance, all of which are de- 
pendent upon taxation; the well-being of all of these and many 
more fluctuates immediately and directly with that of their agri- 
cultural constituency. 

It is equally obvious that the small agricultural community is 
merely the stepping stone to the larger supply centers which serve 
the agricultural regions, and these in turn to the larger western 
cities. Directly and indirectly involved also are the railroads and 
other transportation facilities, the banks, and industries such as 
lumbering which at first thought seem remote but which actually 
depend in part for the sale of their products upon the ability of 
agriculture to purchase. 

In the complex present-day civilization with its high degree of 
specialization, maladjustments in any one important part extends di- 
rectly or indirectly into, most or all of the rest, locally, regionally, 


and even nationally. It is a delicately balanced mechanism exceed- 
ingly sensitive throughout its entire working to a disturbance af- 
fecting any one part. 


By far the most serious result is human wastage. What sum total 
of human wastage has grown directly and indirectly out of the de- 
pletion of the western ranges and the maladjustments in the use 
of range and interrelated croplands will never be known. That 
it has been very large there can be no doubt. Neither can there be 
any doubt that the struggle has served to develop a strong, re- 
sourceful, self-reliant group of survivors who form a most desir- 
able addition to American citizenship. 

Much of the wastage has been so insidious and obscure that it is 
never traced back to its fundamental causes. Successive waves of 
failures under the more adverse conditions, such as the lands sub- 
marginal for private ownership, the wrecking of high hopes and 
aspirations, and the hopelessness and despair and the lowering of 
initiative and self-reliance that grow out of failure, the melting away 
of lifetime savings, the casting adrift of thousands of families to 
become a floating instead of a stable population, reduced standards 
of living, uncompleted education, and other lost opportunities, all 
of these and many more are the barest indication of what unre- 
strained exploitation and destruction mean in terms of human happi- 
ness and well-being. 

In part the human wastage was the price which had to be paid 
in a pioneering enterprise. But in much larger part it is the price 
of glaring and unnecessary mistakes. Any conclusion to the con- 
trary is the saddest kind of a commentary on American efficiency. 
Certainly the possibility of eliminating or reducing human wastage 
in the future is the most compelling justification for the restoration 
of the range resource and the permanent maintenance of its pro- 
ductivity for the highest forms of use. 


The black range cloud like all others has its silver lining. Some 
pitifully small areas have been spared, and what is even more signif- 
icant, other much larger areas have been rehabilitated. On the 
latter primarily, range management having a partially scientific 
basis has been developed and successfully applied. The exceptions, 
which have not been entirely confined to any one form of land 
ownership or control, emphasize the general situation by contrast, 
demonstrate the value of good stewardship, and point the way to the 
solution of the range problem (figs. 15 and 16). Their existence and 
the reasons for them constitute one of the major findings of the 


Approximately 376 million acres, or 51 percent of the range land 
of the West, is in private ownership. Theoretically the incentive of 
ownership should have kept large areas in good condition, but 
actually it has been so ineffective that the original grazing capacity 



has been reduced by more than half. Only on scattered ranges and 
individual ranches is the range in good condition. 

One wool growers' association in Idaho has maintained most of its 
forage in far above average condition, numbers of stock and grazing 
seasons have been limited, and reasonably satisfactory management 
has been established. A cooperative association in Montana has 
been equally successful. Individual ranches which have maintained 
their ranges through management might be cited in all States. In 
California a number of ranges which have been grazed continuously 
for over 50 years have been managed on a sustained forage yield 
basis. One badly depleted ranch in Marin County has been virtually 



National Forests 

Public Domain 
Grazing Dist's,etc 

Indian Lands 

State and County. 





In reasonably 
good condition 

In unsatisfactory 
or poor condition 


Only about 95 million acres of the total range area is now in reasonably good condition, 
and nearly 90 percent of this is on the national forests and private lands. The 
reasonably good areas in other ownerships and forms of control are insignificant. Even 
more impressive is the size of the areas in unsatisfactory or poor condition. 

restored, and a 40,000-acre ranch in Humboldt County still supports 
a maximum stand of the valuable California oatgrass. A 12 million- 
acre area in the sandhills of Nebraska, where the blowing of the 
soil following depletion early taught the stockmen the need for con- 
servative grazing, has largely been maintained in good condition. 
This area as a whole constitutes an outstanding example of satisfac- 
tory management of privately owned range lands. 

The explanation of these exceptional cases lies in various combina- 
tions of favorable natural and economic conditions better than 
average growing conditions; highly resistant and recuperative for- 
age plants; good soils; good grazing capacity; conditions which 
favor good stock distribution; low purchase, carrying, and produc- 
tion costs; balanced economic units; favorable location to markets: 



the influence of national-forest management ; and finally, good busi- 
ness and range management. Such factors as these are responsible 
for roughly the 44 million acres or 12 percent of privately owned 
range that is in good or fairly good condition. 


More than 48 million acres of grazing land chiefly within western 
reservations fall into the Indian land category (fig. 17) . The pres- 
ent condition of this range varies from reasonably satisfactory in 
Oregon, Washington, a portion of Idaho, and the northern Great 
Plains, to serious depletion on most of the area in the Southwest 

Indian lands as a whole have been depleted 51 percent, and during 



National Forests 

Public Domain, 
Grazing Dist's, 

Indian Lands 

State and County 
Private. _ 


20 30 






When the percentage of total range areas in reasonably good condition is taken into 
account, the story is markedly different from that in figure 15. The national forests 
have the best record, but this is creditable only in the light of the condition of the 
ranges when management began 30 years ago. 

the last 30 years the trend on three-fourths of the area has been 
downward, while improvement has been confined to 10 percent. 

What lifts the Indian lands into the exceptional classification, how- 
ever, is the extension of a definite program of management over all 
range lands in 1930 with the delegation of grazing supervision to 
the Forestry Branch in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. On the north- 
western reservations, where earlier progress had been made, the pro- 
gram was readily put into effect. Elsewhere the major provisions 
of the program have been applied to the grazing of white-owned 
livestock. Progress has been slow, however, on ranges used by the 
Indians themselves, especially in the Southwest. It is hoped that 
through persistent effort and extension work the overstocking can be 
reduced. The recent Wheeler-Howard Act provides among other 
things for the stabilization of land status and authorizes consolida- 
tion for management purposes. All in all, while difficult problems 
remain unsolved, the stage has been set for satisfactory range con- 
servation on Indian land. 




The Taylor Grazing Act (June 1934) authorizing grazing districts 
of 80 million acres consummates many years' effort to place the open 
public domain under administration. Sixty-one million acres of 
range lands have been included in grazing districts. More than 67 
million acres of Federal lands in the unreserved public domain and 

National Forests 
Indian Reservations 
Established Grazing Districts 
Proposed Grazing Districts 

FIGUEB 17. The national forests, Indian reservations, and established and proposed 

grazing districts. 

approximately 23 million acres in various reservations and with- 
drawals still lack any provision for grazing management. With 
average deterioration on the public domain of nearly 70 percent, 
which crowns a downward trend for nine-tenths of the whole for 
the last 30 years, this is the most seriously overgrazed and depleted 
range land in the United States. More than 95 percent of the avail- 
able range on the public domain grazing districts and other reserva- 


tions is eroding, one-half materially and one-half severely ; nearly 
45 percent of the area is contributing silt to important streams, 
wildlife values have been greatly reduced, and the utter lack of 
conservation measures has led to serious social and economic malad- 

The title of the Grazing Act lists as its purposes: 

To stop injury to the public grazing lands by preventing overgrazing and soil 
deterioration ; to provide for their orderly use, improvement, and development ; 
to stabilize the livestock industry dependent upon the public range; and for 
other purposes. 

The Secretary of the Interior is directed to 

make provision for the protection, administration, regulation, and improvement 
of such grazing districts as may be created. 

The general purpose of the act and many of its provisions are 
admirable, but its administration may be greatly hampered, or even 
defeated, by restrictive clauses. Much depends upon the administra- 
tive policies adopted under its broad discretionary powers. A clause 
in the first sentence, "pending its final disposal", that is of the range 
land, weakens the entire structure and discourages far-sighted ob- 
jectives by implying a transitional status. Inadequate provision is 
made for special watershed protection and for the conservation of 
resources other than grazing, such as wildlife, forests, and recreation. 
The emphasis is primarily on grazing utilization. 

The provisions of the act making the grazing privilege an ad- 
junctive right in proportion to land and range- water ownership, 
perpetuate and enhance existing monopolies in land use with a public 
resource and may even encourage further monopolies. Adjustments 
needed to make the grazing privilege more fully supplement crop 
and other range lands, and contribute to the maximum number of 
satisfactory economic home units are hampered and may be blocked. 
Some provisions of the act may make grazing privileges practically 
vested rights and prevent reductions needed for range protection. 

Cooperation with local associations of stockmen and appropriate 
State agencies is provided. It is doubtful, however, whether this 
desirable feature should be made the main instrument of administra- 
tion. Present indications are that local control will be largely by 
advisers elected by the stockmen except for supervision and basic 
technical criteria for conservation of the natural resources by Gov- 
ernment personnel. The danger is that because of economic pres- 
sure stocKmen will not impose sufficient restrictions upon themselves 
and their neighbors to rehabilitate the range and manage it satis- 
factorily, and that they may not amply safeguard other resources 
such as watersheds, recreation, and game, in which the general pub- 
lic is vitally interested. It is questionable whether the incentive for 
good management will be greater than under complete private 


The examples of even fairly satisfactory range management are 
so much the exception that it is difficult to outline the progress made 
on the national forests without giving the appearance of partisan- 

6494636 1 


Large-scale range conservation and management has pioneered 
and largely centered on the national forests. Eighty-two and a half 
million acres, or 62 percent of the total area of the western na- 
tional forests are usable and available for grazing. Approximately 
1,430,000 cattle and horses, and 6,161,000 sheep and goats are grazed 
several months of each year. 

The national forests are the direct result of action by far-sighted, 
public-spirited leaders who recognized the widespread exploitation 
and depletion of our forest and watershed resources and the critical 
need for their conservation and wise use. They began as "Forest 
Reserves" in the Department of the Interior under the act of March 
3, 1891, which authorized the President to withdraw and set apart 
by Executive order areas for timber production and for maintain- 
ing favorable conditions of water flow. 

Up to February 1, 1905, only 63.3 million acres had been set apart, 
but very little progress had been made in the administration, protec- 
tion, and management of the lands. The policy was more one of 
"locking up" the resources than of wise use. 

On February 1, 1905, the forest reserves were transferred to what 
has since become the Forest Service in the Department of Agricul- 
ture, and later renamed national forests. President Theodore Roose- 
velt increased the area to 194.5 million acres, to prevent further ex- 
ploitation and monopolistic control. Civil service became the basis 
for selection of personnel and the organization was decentralized to 
facilitate and localize administration. 

The objectives in the administration of the national forest ranges 
have been: 

1. Conservation and use. Perpetuation of all of the resources 
through protection, development, and wise use. 

2. Multiple use. Correlation in management and use of all the 
resources to obtain the highest net public benefits. In such correla- 
tion timber production and watershed protection are necessarily 
given high priority. 

3. Equal opportunity. Protection of the settler and home builder 
against monopoly and unfair competition in the use of the resources. 

4. Integration with agriculture. Relating the use of range and 
other national forest resources to farm-grown forage crops, range, 
and other agricultural resources to obtain the highest benefits from 
all the land. 

5. Stability of use. Safeguarding livestock agriculture by af- 
fording maximum stability in range use consistent with national 
forest objectives. 

6. Cooperation with users. Provision for an advisory voice in 
national forest administration by stockmen and other users. 

7. Local administration. A businesslike and technical adminis- 
tration designed and organized to settle local problems expedi- 
tiously according to local conditions. 

Except for an advisory voice which came later, regulations incor- 
porating these basic policies were put into ^ effect on July 1, 1905. 
Modifications have been made from time to time for clarification and 
better application. 

Most range managers in the Forest Service now have both scien- 
tific training and practical experience in range administration^ a 
gradual transformation from a staff made up largely of men with 


practical experience only. They ascertain, by local study, the rela- 
tive value for grazing of the various range plants, their ability to 
withstand grazing, soil, and other requirements for growth and re- 
production, the best methods of use, and other factors, which to- 
gether determine safe grazing capacity, proper seasons of use, 
adaptability of the range to different classes of stock, requirements 
for sustaining the forage production, and how to hold the soil and 
maintain its fertility. 

Range management plans which apply these data are in effect on 
four-fifths of the area. Stock is controlled on the range by salting 
practice, proper herding, and the construction of watering places, 
drift fences, and other range improvements. The stockmen partici- 
pate actively in management both individually on their respective 
range allotments and collectively through livestock associations and 
advisory boards. 

Grazing capacity has been improved 19 percent since 1910. Na- 
tional-forest ranges today on the whole are 70 percent as good as 
virgin range, as contrasted with 33 percent on the public domain and 
49 percent on privately owned range in the West. Real progress 
has been made in range restoration, considering the pioneer nature 
of the effort, the extent of depletion when the forests were estab- 
lished, the time required for rebuilding the soil, the rough topog- 
raphy, the necessity of grazing large numbers of livestock each year, 
the overload of livestock carried during the war period, the recent 
protracted drought, the desire to avoid undue hardships on the live- 
stock industry through drastic reductions, and the time required to 
overcome human inertia. All of these factors have retarded reha- 
bilitation. But the fact remains that the range has not been fully 
restored. Too many sore spots remain, and remedial action has been 
too slow on many of them. For the national-forest range area as a 
whole it is difficult to escape the conviction that progress should 
have been greater, although it may be too easy in retrospect to min- 
imize the handicaps faced and overcome. Watershed services, 
wildlife numbers, recreational use, and timber production have been 
increased, although here also there is still ample room for improve- 

On the whole, the possibilities of range conservation, use, and man- 
agement have been demonstrated, and public responsibility has 
largely been redeemed. Shortcomings exist, and important unsolved 
problems remain, prominent among which are full range restoration 
and a further improvement in range management, more equitable 
distribution of grazing privileges socially and economically, in which 
too little progress has been made, and more satisfactory relations 
with range permittees. 


Range livestock production has shown a remarkable persistence. 
It has been like a patient suffering from several diseases any one of 
which the doctors believe should be fatal, but who continues to live 
a lusty, vigorous life. 

JRange livestock production has been a new American venture, 
without traditional background. For forage production it has had 
to contend with a climate which at best constitutes a drought more 


severe than any which the remainder of the United States has ever 
experienced. Western droughts have periodically wiped out the 
gains of years. Cheap range feed has been the one great competitive 
advantage of the western range country under a serious marketing 
handicap as compared with the Middle West. This feed, by flagrant 
neglect and mismanagement, has been seriously damaged and in 
places almost destroyed. Over many millions of acres the fertile 
soil, slowly built up during thousands of years, has been wasted 
away and with it the basis of forage production. In going the soil 
has often carried damage and destruction to far-distant areas and 

Range livestock production has built up its land tenure under land 
policies so unsuitable that the final result is an indiscriminate mix- 
ture of holdings large and small, individual and corporate, private 
and public, Federal and State. It has been encouraged by competi- 
tive forces, and by public-land laws and policies formulated for en- 
tirely different conditions and transplanted with little or no modifi- 
cation, to assume the burden of millions of acres of submarginal 
land on which the private owner never had a fighting chance. 

Maladjustments in the use of millions of acres of land for crop 
production, which widespread failure has shown to be suitable only 
for range, have destroyed for years to come some of the most pro- 
ductive range territory. In the balance of seasonal range areas and 
in the balance between crop and range feed a whole series of other 
maladjustments have crept in. 

Although purely an agricultural function, the jurisdiction over 
Federal range lands has been split between two departments. One, 
charged with the responsibility for building up and supporting all 
phases of agriculture for the entire country, has for the past 30 
years been trying on a large scale an experiment on the publicly 
owned national forests in the conservation of natural resources, in- 
cluding range, entirely new in American history. The other, charged 
with the responsibility for the disposal of Federal lands, has only 
within the last 2 years begun the attempt to administer the ranges 
which private owners could and would not take from the puWic 
domain. The agricultural agencies of the States have had little 
voice and no responsibility in the administration of Federal grants, 
which have been handled by agencies charged primarily with land 

Range livestock production has operated under an almost impos- 
sible credit structure. It has been crushed time and again by de- 
pressions. Its markets have been controlled by outside agencies or 
forces, often to its detriment. 

Within its own ranks it has often waged relentless war, big man 
against little, cattleman against sheepman. For years it fought the 
crop farmer, who has now become an essential part of a soundly 
balanced enterprise. It has all too often fought the public agencies 
which were attempting to maintain its resource and to solve its basic 

And yet possibly no other American enterprise has shown a greater 
resilience. None has had a greater confidence in the promise of the 
future or in its own ability to meet every problem which might 
arise. The only conclusion is a virility, an innate vitality, and some- 
thing fundamentally sound in the use of range for livestock grazing 



which deserves and should be given a far better opportunity in its 
own and in the public interest than it has ever had. 


The bewilderingly complex range problem will be clarified and 
consideration of the program required for its solution will be facili- 
tated by breaking it down into its component parts, many of which 
in themselves constitute important problems. This can be done only 
at the expense of some repetition of the preceding and following 
discussions. The reader may if he wishes skip this cataloging of 
problems to the point on page 40 where those of greatest immediate 
importance and urgency are summarized. 






Range *v 


) 200 400 600 728 


One measure of the magnitude of some of the major range resource problems is the 
hundreds of millions of acres on which constructive programs must be carried out. 
All constitute a high percentage of the total range area of 728 million acres. 

The number of interrelated and overlapping problems in this 
break-down is so large and many of them are so crucial that no one 
is the key to the entire situation. They are so enmeshed in the) 
established economic and social set-up that all solutions are fraught 
with extraordinary difficulties. No single feasible line of construc- 
tive action offers the remotest hope of a satisfactory solution. 

1. One major group of problems centers in the range resource and 
its management. 

(a) How stop further forage depletion on the 553 million acres, or 
76 percent of the total range area still deteriorating, and start the 
forage on the upgrade (fig. 18). 

(o) How place all range lands under management. Approxi- 
mately 523 million acres is now subject to practically unrestricted 


(c) How restore to the nearest possible approach to original pro- 
ductivity, and maintain in such productivity thereafter, the 675 mil- 
lion acres, or 93 percent of the range area, now depleted. 

(d) How prevent further deterioration of the soil on which forage 
production depends on the 589 million acres now eroding more or 
less seriously, and start the rebuilding process. 

(e) How restore the soil resource to the nearest possible approach 
to its original fertility, and maintain it at this level. 

2. A second group of major problems centers in land and its 
ownership and use. 

(a) How obtain the soundest distribution of ownership of range 
lands by curing existing maladjustments, and preventing their re- 
currence, first as between private and public holdings, and second, 
as between county, State, and Federal. 

(b) How further unscramble the existing ownership mess, and 
obtain satisfactory livelihood units under private ownership, and 
units which will permit efficient administration under public 

(c) How insure the use of land in the range country for the range 
use or crop production for which it is best suited, by rectifying 
existing maladjustments and preventing future recurrence; or to 
state much the same problem in another way, how obtain a satis- 
factory integration of range and crop agriculture, the best balance 
in private holdings, individually and collectively, and as between 
public range and private range and croplands. 

(d) How, through the correlation of the various uses for which 
range lands are suited, obtain the maximum use or service consistent 
with the conservation of the resource, and hence the highest current 
public benefits. The uses involved are: 

Livestock production estimated at a grazing capacity 50 years 
hence of at least 17.1 million animal units, instead of the present 
safe capacity of 10.8 million units. 

Watershed services in the delivery of the maximum amount of 
usable water, with the minimum of erosion, silting, and destructive 
floods; services which on many areas will constitute the dominant 

The production on forested ranges of timber crops which on the 
national forests will be one of the dominant uses. 

Provision for such part of the rapidly growing need for recre- 
ation as the scenic and other facilities of the range country can 

The sustained production of wildlife as a crop. 

3. A third group of major problems centers in privately owned 
range lands and domestic livestock. 

(a) How relieve private owners of the burden of lands submar- 
ginal for such ownership, and of lands on which the cost of maintain- 
ing high watershed or other public values is excessive for private 
holding, and how also prevent the passage of such, lands to private 
ownership in the future. 

(b) How care for and improve submarginal and high public 
value lands pending transfer to the public, which may require many 

(c) How obtain a positive recognition of the responsibility of 


(d) How reduce the present 60-percent excess of 6.5 million ani- 
mal units to what the range as a whole can carry and still improve. 
Because of livestock ownership the producer is as directly con- 
cerned on public lands as on those he holds in fee simple. 

(e) How place private range lands under satisfactory range 

(/) How restore to the western livestock producer and how main- 
tain his one large competitive advantage of cheap range feed. 

(g) How aid private owners to acquire economic units which will 
support a family under reasonable standards of living. 

(h) How minimize or remove the other existing financial handi- 
caps to economically justified private ownership in inflated land 
values, unsound credits, unsatisfactory market conditions, etc. 

(i) How improve existing range animal husbandry. 

(;') How furnish a reasonable incentive to the private landowner 
to produce and protect game on his own lands. 

4. A fourth group of major problems centers in State and county 
range lands. 

(a) How reconcile the need for the conservation of the range 
resource in the general public interest on Federal land grants with 
the demand for revenue from these lands by dependent institutions. 

(b) How provide for the administration and management, for 
the various purposes for which they are suited, of all State and other 
public range lands by competent agricultural agencies. 

(c) How bring order out of chaos in the handling of tax 

(d) How provide for the acquisition of the State's share of sub- 
marginal and high public value range lands. 

(e) How provide for the consolidation of State and county owner- 
ships into efficient administrative units. 

(/) How carry a long-term constructive program, particularly if 
it cannot be made self -liquidating. 

5. A fifth group of problems centers in Federal range lands. 

(a) How, since it is a strictly agricultural activity, provide for 
the handling of the grazing districts by an agricultural agency. 

(b) How place the remainder of the public domain and other 
Federal withdrawals and reservations under administration and 

(c) How provide for a sound social and economic distribution of 
grazing privileges on all Federal lands ; probably requiring on graz- 
ing districts the modification of organic legislation; and on the 
national forests, further improvement of administrative policies. 

(d) How prevent the establishment of prescriptive rights on 
grazing districts. 

(e) How prevent a conflict in Federal and State authority in the 
administration of the grazing districts. 

(f) How insure an effectively correlated administration of all 
Federal range lands, and at the same time recognize also the funda- 
mental distinction between the national forests and the more strictly 
range group of lands. This means providing on the national forests 
for the necessary further correlation of range use with that of timber 
and other national-forest resources, and on other lands providing for 
the further correlation with the resources involved. 

(g) How provide for the Federal share of the responsibility for 
acquiring private lands submarginal for such ownership, and lands 


with high public values which cannot or will not be safeguarded 
by private owners. 

(A) How provide for the consolidation of Federal lands into 
workable administrative units. 

SI) How reconcile the existing difference between national forests 
grazing districts in the Federal contribution to States, etc., in 
lieu of taxes and place it on an equitable basis. 

(j) How provide for an effective working relationship between 
the Federal Government and the States in the handling of wildlife 
on Federal lands. 

(k) How carry a long-term affirmative program, particularly if 
it cannot be made self -liquidating. 

6. A sixth group of major problems centers in the social and eco- 
nomic aspects of integrated range and crop agriculture. 

How prevent further human wastage and insure reasonable stand- 
ards of living and social and economic security for the maximum 
number of people that the combined range and cropland resource 
can support. The handling of all lands regardless of ownership is 

7. A seventh group of major problems centers in basic knowledge. 
(a) How obtain the basic information needed by both private 

and public owners on the biological, social, and economic phases of 
the conservation and use of the entire range resource. 

(5) How insure the application of this knowledge by private 
owners and public-land managers. 

In briefest form the lines of action of greatest immediate urgency 
and importance are 

1. For the range and soil resource. To stop further soil and for- 
age depletion, start both on the upgrade, reduce excessive stocking, 
and place all range lands under management. 

2. For land ownership and use. To rectify existing maladjust- 
ments and obtain a sound distribution of ownership between pri- 
vate and various public agencies, build up economic private and 
public units, balance and integrate crop and range use, and cor- 
relate the livestock, watershed, forest, wildlife, and recreation forms 
of range land uses and services. 

3. For privately owned range lands and livestock. To relieve 
private owners of submarginal and high watershed and other pub- 
lic-value lands, obtain a recognition of the responsibility of steward- 
ship, reduce excessive stocking, place lands under management, re- 
store cheap range feed, build up economic units, and minimize or 
remove various other financial handicaps. 

4. For State and county lands. To reconcile range conservation 
and the financial needs of State institutions, place lands under ad- 
ministration and management by agricultural agencies, solve the tax 
delinquency problem, and share the acquisition of submarginal and 
high public-value lands. 

5. For Federal range lands. To transfer the grazing districts to 
the Department of Agriculture; place all remaining lands under 
administration and management; to interpret and probably amend 
the Taylor Grazing Act to provide for a sound distribution of graz- 
ing privileges, prevent the establishment of prescriptive rights, and 
provide for the correlation of various grazing uses; and share the 
acquisition of submarginal and high public-value lands. 


6. For social and economic security^ To prevent further human 
wastage and insure social and economic security for the population 
dependent on the combined range-cropland resource. 

7. For basic knowledge. To obtain and apply the information 
necessary for the conservation and wise use of the range resource 
for public betterment. 

Implicit in these problems and lines of action is the question of 
the desirability or necessity, if Federal obligations are to be fully 
redeemed, for the full concentration of responsibility for public 
action in a single agency. A similar question holds for the States. 


It is perfectly clear from the preceding discussion that the range 
resource the forage and the soil on which it grows is the key to 
all forms of use and hence to all the social and economic benefits 
which should flow from such uses. 

The most urgent range resource problems are to stop further 
deterioration of forage and soil and start both on the upgrade. The 
ultimate objective is full restoration and permanent maintenance in 
full productivity. The means which must be employed to accom- 
plish both purposes is to reduce excessive stocking to what the range 
can carry and improve, and to place all range lands under 

If the range is to serve its greatest usefulness, plans for stopping 
deterioration, and for restoration and maintenance, must be formu- 
lated around the highest form or forms of use, whether for the 
grazing of domestic livestock, for the services which watersheds 
should render, for timber production, for the production of wildlife, 
or for recreation. 


One specific indication of the size of the job of halting further 
deterioration, of restoration, and of maintenance is the 728 million 
acres of range land which it must cover. 

A specific indication of the size of the restoration job is the fact 
that the present grazing capacity of the range as a whole must be 
increased by about 110 percent to reach its original condition. Still 
further, as shown by table 3, restoration must provide for more than 
633 million acres now depleted more than one-fourth, nearly 390 mil- 
lion acres more than half, and nearly 120 million acres more than 

TABLE 3. The restoration /oft in terms of areas now depleted 

Depletion classes 

Area depleted 

1,000 acres 


Moderate (0-25 percent)... 

270, 470 


Material (26-50 percent) 

Severe (5175 percent) 

Extreme (76-100 percent) 





In briefest form the specific lines of action required are : 

1. First and by all odds most important, the reduction of stocking 
to the actual present grazing capacity. Since present stocking of 
the entire range area, now 17.3 million animal units, is 60 percent in 
excess of its estimated capacity, it will have to be reduced by about 
6.5 million animal units. 

The guiding principle should be stocking year after year with 
the number of animals which each unit will support each season 
without injury to the range. The outstanding need for restoration 
and the wide fluctuations of climate and hence of forage production 
require conservative stocking for satisfactory results, and this under 
most conditions should leave from 20 to 30 percent of the palatable 
growth of the important forage plants during average years. In 
addition, stocking should be low enough to prevent injury to water- 
sheds and tree growth, and should be properly correlated with wild- 
life and recreational requirements. 

The practical difficulties involved in such reductions are fully 
recognized, but the owners of private lands and managers of public 
lands should not overlook the possibility that actual returns will be 
greater in the long run from conservation than from continued over- 
grazing. They may be greater immediately. The reduction figures 
given are for the entire range. Not all ranges and individual hold- 
ings are overstocked. Many stockmen who have overstocked free 
public ranges in self -protection will undoubtedly welcome the oppor- 
tunity to make reductions to actual grazing capacity when these 
ranges are placed under administration and the feed for their live- 
stock is assured. 

2. A judicious balance for range rehabilitation between natural 
and artificial revegetation. 

The cheapest and most practical method of halting destruction and 
of restoration on about 635 million acres or 87 percent of the total 
range areas is through the control of the stocking and the use of 
sound grazing systems. This means in essence merely giving the 
native forage a chance to come back under its own marvelous 
recuperative powers. 

On about 38 million acres, or 5 percent, of the most completely 
depleted areas such as abandoned farm lands and those which are 
most critical from the standpoint of watershed protection, the choice 
lies between artificial revegetation, which has a great advantage in 
time but will cost about $2.85 per acre, and waiting for natural 
processes, which according to the best information now available 
would require from about 20 years as a minimum to perhaps 50 
years as a maximum. 

3. Putting into effect on the ground the best available systems of 
grazing, including deferred and rotation grazing, continual moderate 
grazing, and alternate grazing, which are described in more detail 
elsewhere in the report. The use of these systems is required in both 
restoration and subsequent maintenance, as are also all of the follow- 
ing lines of action. 

Such systems are in effect on about 80 percent of the national- 
forest ranges, possibly 40 or 45 percent of Indian lands, and 10 to 15 
percent of private and State lands. 

4. Adjustments of seasons of grazing to safeguard forage plant 
vigor and prevent damage to the soil. 


Such seasonal adjustments have been made on at least 85 percent 
of the national-forest ranges and seasonal use is probably satisfactory 
on one-third to one-half of other ownerships. 

5. Insuring the use of each range unit by the class of animals for 
which it is best suited. Where the wrong class of stock is grazed, 
especial care in stocking and management will be required. On pub- 
lic lands, at least, the proper balance between livestock and game 
is necessary. 

About 80 percent of the national-forest ranges are grazed with 
the proper class of livestock, but information on other ownerships 
is not available. This phase of management will be increasingly 
important as the need for greater efficiency in the use of available 
forage is recognized. 

6. Employment of all practical means such as salt control, water 
development, herding, and in some cases fencing, to obtain the closest 
practical approach to even distribution of stock over the range and 
to reduce livestock handling costs. 

Such means are in effect in varying degrees on a rather high per- 
centage of national-forest ranges, on possibly half the private ranges, 
and on still lower percentages of other ownerships. 

7. The preparation and use of practical range management plans, 
which for most private owners can be very simple. For the private 
owner, public assistance in their preparation should be made avail- 
able through extension services. 

Serviceable range management plans have been prepared for ap- 
proximately 82 percent of the national-forest ranges and intensive 
plans for 48 million acres. Nearly 57 million acres, including inter- 
mingled lands, still need range surveys as a prerequisite for fully 
satisfactory plans. General plans have also been prepared or are 
in preparation for all Indian range lands, but 28 million acres re- 
quire range surveys for intensive plans. Nearly 150 million acres 
of grazing districts and other Federal range lands will need surveys 
for management plans. Many private owners have sketchy plans 
for handling their ranges but only a small percentage have devel- 
oped and applied plans adequate to prevent deterioration and in- 
sure rehabilitation of depleted ranges. 

8. Animal husbandry is an essential part of the livestock enter- 
prise. Despite rather marked progress, there is still room for im- 
provement. Better practices such as the use of high-quality sires, 
limited breeding seasons, the culling of aged cows and ewes, supple- 
mental feeding designed to offset mineral deficiencies in range feed, 
etc., should increase calf and lamb crops, improve the quality of the 
animals, and increase the prices received. Owners should then be 
able to obtain the same or greater income from smaller herds and to 
graze their ranges more conservatively. 


For satisfactory watershed protection, a range service at least 
equal in value to that for livestock grazing, the following additional 
provisions are necessary : 

1. If some necessary precautions are taken, restoration, and main- 
tenance of plant cover adequate to meet watershed requirements 
satisfactorily on most ranges is possible under grazing. 


2. On approximately 135 million acres of depleted range, accord- 
ing to the best information available, more conservative utilization 
or greater care in the use of grazing systems, in seasonal use, etc., 
than that necessary to restore and maintain forage will be required. 

3. In some instances, such as seriously eroding areas on the water- 
sheds of important streams, temporary closure to all grazing will 
be necessary in the public interest. Perhaps 50 million acres may 
be involved since this will include the 38 million acres requiring arti- 
ficial revegetation. 

4. Small critical range areas, perhaps not to exceed 5 percent of 
the total range area, will require special erosion-control measures. 
The exact conditions under which the cheaper and more practical 
means of natural revegetation must be supplemented by special 
measures is uncertain, and the most effective measures and what 
they will cost, are still in an experimental stage. 

5. Limited areas, such as municipal watersheds, and those of irri- 
gation reservoirs where the plant cover is on a hair-trigger balance 
because of adverse conditions, will need to be closed permanently to 
grazing. A total of about 11.5 million acres fall into this category. 


Included in the range area is about 78 million acres of forest land 
capable of producing commercial timber crops. Nearly 90 percent 
is in national forest and private ownership. Under proper man- 
agement livestock can ordinarily be grazed without jeopardizing 
the more profitable use for timber growing. 

An additional 76 million acres classified as range lands in this 
report contains forests which will not grow commercial timber 
products. Here, ordinarily, the choice of dominant use will be 
between grazing and watershed protection. 


1. The primary requirement for wildlife is the nearest feasible 
approach to natural environmental conditions through halting fur- 
ther range deterioration, and through restoration and maintenance. 
Along with this must go clear-cut recognition of the fact that wild- 
life is a product of the land and can satisfactorily be produced only 
as a crop. 

2. If properly managed the wildlife resource need not, except on 
limited areas, conflict seriously with the use of the range for other 
purposes. For big game animals and waterfowl, exclusive use may 
be required of only relatively limited areas of range land, in addi- 
tion to the 2.8 million acres already reserved in the national forests, 
and areas acquired by the Biological Survey for migratory bird 
refuges and other wildlife preservation. 

3. The strengthening of the basis for cooperation between the 
Federal Government and the States is a badly needed initial step 
in the handling of game on Federally owned lands. 

4. Beyond this, the development of a coordinated administration 
of wildlife on all lands regardless of ownership is necessary. 

5. The working out of some way to retain hunting and fishing 
privileges for the average man, which the American sportsman re- 


gards as a birthright, is an increasing challenge, as is also some 
incentive to private landowners to produce and protect game. 
6. Other -considerations include 

(a) Recognition of the need for wildlife management plans and 
provision for actual preparation. 

(b) Selection of the personnel in game administration agencies 
by the merit system rather than by political preference. This neces- 
sarily includes the recognition of wildlife management as a 

(c) Provision for needed refuges and sanctuaries. 

(d) The ironing out of difficulties in licensing and law enforce- 

(e) Provision for the artificial planting of game where needed 
and feasible. 


1. Recognition of the inspirational, social, and economic value of 
recreation, taking into account its phenomenal recent and probable 
future growth. 

2. Recognition of the fact that range lands have an important 
recreational function although it is seldom their dominant use. 

3. Careful planning, which under most conditions will make pos- 
sible full recreational use without undue restriction of either live- 
stock use or that by wildlife. 

4. Such local adjustments in grazing use as may be necessary. 

5. The cash value of recreation in which livestock producers 
share is an important factor offsetting possible losses. The western 
"dude ranch" is an example of direct returns, but community returns 
benefit livestock producers indirectly. 


Three hundred seventy-six million acres of western range land is 
in private ownership. During a few decades, livestock grazing has 
depleted this area by 51 percent; 85 percent or about 318 million 
acres is still going down; more than 15 million acres will require 
artificial revegetation ; only about 12 percent or 44 million acres is 
in good or fairly satisfactory condition. 

The magnitude of the private -land problem in area, in estimated 
present grazing capacity, and in potential grazing capacity 50 years 
hence, is shown graphically in figure 19 in comparison with public 

The lines of action involving privately^ owned lands and livestock, 
which have been designated of greatest immediate urgency and im- 
portance in an affirmative program, should be repeated in order to 
bring the provisions which follow into sharper focus; to relieve 
private owners of lands which they cannot carry and redeem the 
responsibilities of stewardship, reverse the process of forage and soil 
depletion by reducing overstocking and placing all lands under man- 
agement for their highest forms of use, restore cheap range feed, 
balance range and cropland use, and to build up economic units and 
minimize or remove other financial handicaps. 

The private ownership of land is so ingrained in our national 
philosophy that the obvious action called for on range lands is to 



afford to private owners the most favorable possible opportunity to 
hold all lands which are above the submarginal line, or which do 
not have a special public interest. This more specifically requires 
combined private and public action to remove or at least to mini- 
mize the handicaps which have served to make private ownership 
precarious under all but the most favorable conditions. 

Range lands which, because of low inherent productivity and high 
ownership costs, are clearly submarginal for private ownership, or 
which have high public values involving expenditures beyond pri- 



National Forests 

Public Domain, 
Grazing Distfe.etc. 

Indian Lands 
State and County. 
All Public 


400 300 200 100 

Range Area 

Present Grazing 

2 4 6 8 10 


.rrn Potential Grazing 
ml Capacity (SOyears) 


Privately owned lands comprise only slightly more than half the range area, but have 
more than double the present potential grazing capacity of public lands. Such 
public lands as national forests, the grazing districts, and the public domain are 
much more important than either acreage or grazing capacity alone indicates, the 
national forests because of the shortage of summer range and the grazing districts 
because of the shortage of winter range. Furthermore, these public holdings are the 
largest areas under single forms of control. Private ownership is not the simple, 
compact entity that the diagram indicates, but is made up of several hundred 
thousand ranch, corporate, and other holdings. The transfer of any such area as 125 
million acres from private to public ownership will make significant changes in the 
relationships shown. 

vate means fall into an entirely different category. The ways in 
which private owners may be relieved of the burden of carrying 
such lands, which total about one-third of those now privately held, 
are discussed later. Under the most favorable conditions which can 
now be foreseen, many years will be required for such a transfer. 
While nominally the following discussion covers the entire area in 
private ownership, it deals primarily in fact with the lands above 
the marginal line and without high public value which will remain 
permanently in such ownership. But it must be recognized that the 
submarginal and high public value lands will constitute a particu- 
larly acute problem prior to transfer. 


The universal private ownership of domestic livestock, large 
numbers of which graze on public lands, broadens the problems of 
the stockman far beyond his own land holdings and increases the 
public responsibility for the welfare of the livestock industry. 


For reasons already outlined, the private owner's responsibility 
for the stewardship of land is a concept conspicuous largely by its 
absence in the United States. Ownership has been regarded as 
carrying the right of unrestricted use even though it meant de- 
struction and even though the evil consequences of destruction did 
not stop with the owner but extended to the public and to posterity. 

Basic to the restoration and conservation of the range resource is 
the recognition of an entirely different philosophy: that ownership 
carries with it the obligation and responsibility for preservation, 
which the owner owes to himself, to his descendents, and to the 

Satisfactory recognition and practical application can be obtained 
only by the fullest cooperation of private and public agencies in 
such ways as: (1) Local regulatory laws on the use of land; (2) 
framing and adoption of land policies; (3) land zoning and plan- 
ning; and (4) various other measures outlined in more detail in 
the following. 

Information is already available on simple practical systems of 
range management and the handling of stock on open ranges which 
will permit vast improvement over existing practices, and which 
should increase the financial returns of the stockman and at the 
same time restore and perpetuate his basic resource. Although ani- 
mal-husbandry practices are far in advance of range management 
on private lands, there is still room for improvement. 

Involved are: 

1. The recognition of cheap range feed as the outstanding com- 
petitive advantage of the western stockman. 

2. The recognition of overstocking followed by the necessary re- 
ductions, which from the information now available for privately 
owned ranges as a whole will have to be about 38 percent (figs. 20 
and 21). 

3. The application of sound systems of management and handling 
of livestock on the range. This and the preceding should stop de- 
pletion and start recovery on the 318 million acres which are still 

4. Artificial revegetation on 15 million acres. 

5. Water development, fencing, and other improvements, rodent 
control, etc., as a basis for range improvement and better use of 
the range. 

6. Simple, practical range management plans based on actual 
conditions in essence, carefully considered planwise efforts to raise 
the standards of handling all ranges. 

7. Better animal-husbandry practices, such as breeding, culling, 
supplemental feeding, etc. 



The private operator has both an opportunity and an obligation 
to put such measures into effect individually or through cooperative 


on Range 



One of the most crucial and immediate problems on privately owned range lands is the 
reduction of excess stocking, estimated at about 4.5 million animal units. No other 
single form of action will do more to stop deterioration and start the ranges on the 

The public can make a large contribution by conducting research 
and giving advice and assistance through extension agencies in 
accordance with the plan followed in crop agriculture. 



National Forests 
Indian Lands__ 


Public Domain, 
Grazing Dist's.etc. 

State and County 

40 60 





Except on the national forests, the removal of excess stock is a critical problem. Even 
on the national forests, where the excess is relatively small, the problem will be 

Where large cash outlays are required for revegetation, erosion 
control, range improvements, etc., public assistance might take the 
form of doing a part of the work or of subsidies provided, in view 


of the recent A. A. A. Supreme Court decision, they can be made 
conditional upon requirements for improved range practices, or 
provided some other effective means can be worked out. 

The Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act may provide 
a means for aiding both private and public owners to restore and 
maintain the soil and range resource. Any payments to private 
owners or tenants, or to the permittees on public ranges, which may 
be made under this act, should among other things be conditional 
upon livestock reductions to the grazing capacity of the range, and 
upon such other requirements as satisfactory systems of range 
management, proper seasonal use, etc. 

Among the responsibilities of stewardship carried with private 
ownership of land is watershed protection. The major part of 
watershed responsibilities for especially hazardous conditions must, 
however, be borne by the public. 

About 25 million acres of privately owned forest land capable of 
growing commercial timber is valuable also and available for graz- 
ing. On such lands higher returns can ordinarily be obtained from 
timber growing, and consequently it will be in the self-interest of 
the owner to make timber growing the dominant purpose of manage- 
ment. Timber returns can usually, however, be supplemented by 
those from livestock grazing. 

For the production of game some form of compensation to the 
private owner will be necessary, either by sportsmen's associations 
or. the States. Precedents exist in several States. 


As a result of factors already discussed, including unsuitable land 
policies, large numbers of land units in the West are uneconomic 
from the standpoint of supporting families under reasonable stand- 
ards of living, and hence socially undesirable. Such units fall into 
three classes: (1) Undersized cash-crop livestock units; (2) under- 
sized livestock units; (3) oversized livestock units. 

Sound economic units will vary within wide limits because of 
radically different regional and local conditions and the differences 
in individual enterprises. The formulation of guiding principles for 
working out such units constitutes an exceedingly complex and diffi- 
cult problem, and the application will be even more difficult and time 

The tendency already begun to build units up to economic size 
should be encouraged. Provision will have to be made, however, 
for the resettlement on irrigation projects or otherwise of people who 
are eliminated. 

The tendency for oversized units to break down should be en- 
couraged and this should help to take care of excess population 
eliminated in building up small units. 

The size of satisfactory units may under some conditions be held 
down by a greater diversification of crops and at the same time a 
more stable agriculture assured. The building up of range pro- 
ductivity should also be a factor, in holding down the size of satis- 
factory range units. 

The addition to the already large area of public range land of 
about one-third of the land now privately held will accentuate the 

6494636 5 


place which the use of public lands must fill in economic units. The 
availability of public lands will reduce the size for private units. 
It must be recognized, however, that the total area of range land is 
not large enough to meet all requirements, that practically all ranges 
are already badly overstocked, and that the soundest use of public 
range will be to build up economic units and not to perpetuate 
uneconomic units. 

The availability of public ranges on the national forests, grazing 
districts, and State lands should afford an opportunity for labor to 
supplement income and hence to reduce the size of private units 
which would otherwise be necessary. 

Despite the fact that up to the present economic units have not 
insured satisfactory handling of the range, they do, theoretically 
at least, constitute an essential basis for stabilizing private ownership 
and insuring economic security, and should accordingly receive 
corresponding attention. 


Both owners and their creditors must be prepared to accept defla- 
tion of range-land prices to actual values, and public agencies can 
render material aid by placing credit on a sound basis. Authorita- 
tive information on values, obtained by research, should be invalu- 
able as a guide. 


The excess of annual exports over imports in "meat and meat 
products" dropped by more than 80 percent, to $49,000,000, between 
the 4-year period ending June 30, 1926, and that ending June 30, 
1935. Net imports of "wool and mohair" decreased by nearly 90 
percent, to $15,000,000 for the same periods. 

These changes reflect both a decreasing export market and chang- 
ing requirements at home. Stockmen no longer have the advantage 
of a continuously expanding domestic market. 

Manufacturers can rather easily restrict their output to demands, 
but because of the nature of the enterprise similar action by livestock 
producers is much more difficult. Some means of avoiding unman- 
ageable surpluses will undoubtedly be desirable in the interest of the 
producer and consumer alike. 


To overcome marketing handicaps producers have in their own 
hands such means as cooperative associations and the uniform grad- 
ing of their products. The public can continue to assist by encour- 
aging cooperative marketing ; by studying such questions as distribu- 
tion, marketing differentials, the demands of the trade, etc., and 
making the information available; and by preventing combinations 
in restraint of trade and unfair practices prejudicial to the livestock 


The prime needs in the credit situation are to adapt credits to the 
requirements of the livestock industry, as to period of loans and 



rate of interest, to base loans on the productivity of both the range 
resource and livestock as collateral, and to couple with loans the 
requirement that the range resource be maintained. 

More favorable and satisfactory public credit facilities are rapidly 
being developed under the Farm Credit Administration. 


Much more exact information is required before any great im- 
provement in the taxation system can be expected. While the task 
of obtaining such information is a public obligation, the livestock 
industry can encourage such undertakings. 


Both research and extension are primarily public responsibilities, 
but should be encouraged by the livestock interests. The program 
needed is outlined hereafter. 


Exclusive of that proposed for Federal and State acquisition, the 
areas of publicly owned or controlled range land with which the 
following program deals are summarized in table 4. 

TABLE 4. Area* of publicly owned range lands 

Ownership or control 

Range area 


National forests 

88, 000, 000 

82, 500, 000 

Grazing districts 

i 65 500 000 


Public domain 

1 96, 700, 000 

67, 200, 000 


23 000 000 

21 600 000 

Indian lands . . 

48, 400, 000 

48, 400, 000 

State, county, etc 

65 500 000 

65 100 000 

1 Gross area. 

1 Also total range area. 

Here again, despite repetition, the action of greatest immediate 
urgency and importance should be restated in order to obtain the 
proper emphasis on the various provisions of the public range land 
program proposed : To transfer jurisdiction to agricultural agencies 
in order to obtain effective correlation and administration; place 
all remaining lands under administration in order to reduce exces- 
sive stocking, get ranges under management, arid reverse forage and 
soil depletion processes; in administration and management, to fol- 
low the multiple-use principle, obtain a sound distribution of the 
grazing privilege, and avoid prescriptive rights; consolidate hold- 
ings into efficient administrative units ; relieve private owners of the 
lands they cannot carry, by purchase or acceptance of gifts ; rectify 
the chaotic tax-delinquency situation; and use public lands as an 
affirmative means to social and economic security. 



One of the most urgent problems confronting the administration 
of the Federal range lands is that of jurisdiction. The 82.5 mil- 
lion acres of available range in the national forests is administered 
by the Forest Service in the Department of Agriculture, but the 60.6 
million acres already in grazing districts is administered by the 
Grazing Division in the Department of the Interior. The latter 
Department is also responsible for the 67.2 million acres in the pub- 
lic domain which have not been placed under administration. 

Some fundamental differences in national forest, and grazing dis- 
trict and public-domain lands, as well as some fundamental similari- 
ties, must be recognized. The national forests contain important 
timber, watershed, wildlife, and recreational resources which are 
intermingled with and cannot be segregated from the range resource. 

The grazing districts, the public domain, and various other un- 
managed Federal withdrawals are largely arid or semiarid lands 
valuable primarily for grazing, but in part having very high water- 
shed values and also values for wildlife and recreation. 

Because of the fundamental differences, the territorial integrity of 
both classes of units should be maintained. But some boundary ad- 
justments are needed to place in each the resources it is designed 
primarily to conserve, to round out natural topographic units, and 
to simplify administration. 

Because of the fundamental similarities, the range administra- 
tion of both classes must be closely correlated. Both must be in- 
tegrated with ranch and farm lands, and in many cases with the 
same lands. Large numbers of livestock, and game in some in- 
stances, are dependent on the national forests for summer range 
and the grazing districts for winter range. The grazing districts 
can relieve the shortage of spring-fall range on the national forests. 
Some range improvements can serve both classes of land. Both can 
benefit by an interchange of supervisory and technical services and 

Having to deal with two entirely distinct personnel groups in two 
Departments on different phases of a single problem creates an im- 
possible situation for the user. Policies, procedure, legislation, point 
of view, and basic theories which should be consistent are bound to 

Practical experience shows conclusively that misunderstandings, 
conflicts, and jurisdictional disputes, all of which reduce efficiency 
and public service, are bound to arise. Stockmen are placed in a 
position in which the easiest way out may seem to be to play one 
department against the other, often to their own detriment and that 
of the resource. 

Finally the ultimate cost to the public of separate departmental 
jurisdiction, assuming thoroughly efficient administration, and tak- 
ing duplication of effort and field and overhead organizations, etc., 
into account, will certainly be higher. In short, there seems to las no 
justification whatever for splitting jurisdiction between two depart- 

A decision on the most logical and effective jurisdiction should 
take the following factors into account : 


The management of range and also of forest lands is agriculture 
pure and simple. It deals with the soil, the interrelation of soil and 
plant cover, water and climate, with plants and animals, the dis- 
eases and insects affecting both, with the maintenance of biological 
balances between plant and animal life, with the growing and har- 
vesting or utilization of crops, in fact, with all of the "problems 
relating to the growth from the soil." It deals with the economic 
and social as well as the biological problems of land use in all of 
their phases. It must rest upon the biological and economic sciences 
which have to do with soil, water, climate, plants, animals, and land. 

The forage on public ranges is used by livestock from the farms 
and ranches, which are fed increasingly on farm forage crops. West- 
ern crops are largely dependent on irrigation water from forest and 
range watersheds. The use of the public range and forest land and 
private range and farm land is interrelated in innumerable other 

The Department of Agriculture, as one of its major projects, is 
attempting to meet the Federal obligation to help agriculture 
develop a sound program. In this undertaking the problems of the 
public range and forest lands cannot be separated from those of 
other range and crop lands. 

Nearly all the Federal bureaus charged with research and admin- 
istration relating directly and vitally to forestry and range man- 
agement and to the development of a land-use program are in the 
Department of Agriculture (fig. 84). It is the duly constituted and 
authorized Federal agency for dealing with the agriculturist. It 
works in close cooperation with the State agricultural colleges, ex- 
periment stations, and extension services. 

The Department of Agriculture is, therefore, the logical and, in 
fact, the only well-equipped department for the administration of 
federally owned range and forest lands. 


The principles which should govern the administration of all fed- 
erally owned range lands, whether on the national forests or the 
grazing districts, including the public domain and other Federal 
withdrawals and reservations, are: 

1. Management which will restore and maintain in perpetuity on 
a sustained yield basis, and utilize, all of the resources of the land. 

2. The correlated use of all the resources to obtain the highest 
net public benefits. 

3. The integration of the public-range resources with privately 
owned crop and range lands to obtain the highest benefits from all of 
the lands locally, regionally, and nationally. 

4. An equitable distribution of the grazing privilege, based on 
the highest net public benefits, to those who are dependent upon and 
are entitled to use the range. 

5. Readjustments of land ownership and use where needed and 
justified to facilitate economical and efficient management and ad- 
ministration of public range lands. 

6. A decentralized administration qualified to settle local problems 
in accordance with local requirements, and responsive to the advice 


and assistance of local users to the extent consistent with the protec- 
tion of the public interest the antithesis of bureaucracy. 

The application of these principles requires a far greater devel- 
opment of research than has hitherto been possible, and the prompt 
and full use of the findings. The purpose of enhancing private 
opportunity on lands suitable for such ownership, and the still 
broader purpose of insuring the greatest possible social and economic 
stability of the dependent agricultural and other population, must 
underlie the entire administration of the public range resource. 


The principles outlined, with occasional minor modifications to 
meet conditions, have been the basis for national forest administra- 
tion for many years. The chief tasks of the future are : 

years snouia maKe it possible lor tnese ranges to carry 
20 percent more stock than the present grazing capacity of the range. 

2. A strengthening of range management; including the prepara- 
tion and use of intensive management plans on the 40 million acres 
not now so covered and periodical revision when necessary ; seasonal 
adjustments not satisfactorily solved on about 12 percent of range 
allotments ; reseeding of about 780,000 acres ; other special treatment 
for sore spots ; improvements such as water developments and fenc- 
ing, rodent control, etc. 

3. Improvement in the basis for the distribution of the grazing 
privileges to insure a more effective tie with privately owned lands 
and to afford greater security to the small private operation de- 
pendent on and entitled to use public ranges. 

4. Occasional changes for a better correlation of range uses. 
Approximately half, or 43 million acres, of the national forest 

range area is forest land capable of producing commercial timber. 
On such lands timber production will have to be the dominant use 
because of the provisions of organic legislation and the general 
purposes for which the national forests were created. Grazing use 
will generally be possible but will have to be made contingent upon 
the protection of forest growth and continuous forest production. 

About 22 million acres additional is noncommercial forest in which 
the correlation required will be between livestock grazing and water- 
shed protection. 

Since organic national forest legislation provides for "maintain- 
ing favorable conditions of water flow" the handling of livestock 
grazing must insure watershed protection. On relatively limited 
areas special erosion-control measures are required. 


Practically the entire problem of placing the grazing districts and 
public domain under management lies ahead. The complexity and 
difficulty of the task is accentuated by the existing depletion of 
nearly 70 percent, by the fact that 93 percent is still on the down 
grade, by long-established traditions of use, by an extremely involved 


ownership pattern in some regions, and by private holdings of key 
areas in others. 

To carry out such an essential measure as placing the remaining 
half of the public domain under administration and to insure 
permanence will require the modification of existing legislation. 

To carry out other essential measures such as an equitable dis- 
tribution of grazing privileges; the reduction of stocking, which 
now exceeds grazing capacity by 43 percent (fig. 21), to insure co- 
ordinated use of all the range resources; to avoid the establishment 
of prescriptive rights; and to avoid a conflict between Federal and 
State authority will require exceptionally favorable interpretation 
of the Grazing Act in the public interest, and probably also its 

In addition to the reduction of stocking, essentials in the field of 
technical management include putting sound systems of range man- 
agement into effect, making adjustments in seasonal use, artificial 
restoration on at least 18 million acres, the control of erosion on 
many millions of acres, surveys, preparation and putting manage- 
ment plans into effect for the entire area, and a large improve- 
ment program designed to aid technical management. 

The measures proposed should increase the present grazing ca- 
pacity of the grazing district-public domain range by 76 percent 
in 50 years. Or putting it in another way, 50 years' effort will be 
necessary to build the range up to the point where it can carry 
safely the livestock now being grazed. 

Some provision should be made for the administration and man- 
agement of the 21.6 million acres of available range on other reserva- 
tions and withdrawals, preferably by the Secretary of Agriculture 
with the concurrence of the Secretary of primary jurisdiction. 

Definite provision is necessary also to prevent further alienation 
of Federal lands unsuitable for private ownership. One prerequi- 
site for transfer should be classification by the Department of Agri- 
culture, which should appraise not only the suitability of the land 
for private ownership but also the size of the unit required. 


The primary objective in range management on 48 million acres of 
Indian owned but federally controlled range land is the social and 
economic advancement and security of the Indians. 

The major and most pressing task is the rehabilitation of de- 
pleted ranges. For all Indian lands an estimated reduction in 
stocking averaging 26 percent is required to reach grazing capacity 
(fig. 21), and a still higjier reduction is necessary on the half of 
the Indian grazing land in the Southwest where the depletion is 

This is a difficult situation, for unless depletion is stopped the 
Indians face ruin through the loss of one of their most important 
resources, but drastic livestock reductions will create another difficult 
problem. Removal of white-owned livestock, more equitable dis- 
tribution of grazing privileges among the Indians, the purchase of 
additional range, the initiation of work projects, and the develop- 
ment of supplemental industries are possible shock absorbers. 


Reductions in stocking must be accompanied by other improve- 
ments in range management, removal of worthless horses, rodent 
control, special erosion control, and artificial revegetation. 

The consummation of the program proposed will, it is estimated, 
permit the grazing of about 13 percent more livestock 50 years 
hence than are now grazed. 


State and county range lands, aggregating some 66 million acres, 
fall into two general classes. 

The first is the remnant of Federal grants to States designed to 
produce revenue for schools and other institutions. In the main 
these lands have been leased without control to obtain maximum 
current revenue and as a result have been depleted by 49 percent, 
and 88 percent of the total area is still on the downgrade. 

The difficulty of the problem that the States face in these lands 
should not be minimized. The policy so far followed will ulti- 
mately defeat the purpose of the grants unless ways and means 
are developed to restore and conserve the resources which give the 
lands their value. In some instances already the ranges have been 
depreciated so far that they can no longer be leased. While con- 
stitutional and other limitations have been a factor, the very fact 
that these lands have not already been sold is an indication that a 
substantial part is submarginal for private ownership and should 
be retained by the public. 

The other horn of the dilemma is that the State institutions are 
dependent in varjdng degree upon the receipts, and the range can- 
not be restored and administered without expenditures which may 
equal the receipts. The soundest course in the long run will prob- 
ably be to restore and maintain the resource, making what other 
provision may be necessary for the institutions. 

The second class is made up of private lands which have reverted 
to the States or counties through tax delinquency. That the total 
area is large is certain, but its exact extent is unknown. Much 
tax-delinquent land is still in a twilight zone between private and 
public ownership. Without doubt submarginality for private own- 
ership is a primary cause. Depletion is also a primary cause be- 
cause it has reduced the productive capacity of the lands and hence 
the returns from them. The combined depression and drought has 
hit hardest the poor and depleted lands and uneconomic units. 

To meet the increasingly serious problem created by this "new 
public domain" a revolutionary change in policy in most if not all 
States is required. Only those lands above the marginal line on 
which the private owner has a chance for success, and those without 
high public values, should be returned to private ownership. Those 
below and those with high public values should be retained under 
public control. A differentiation can be worked out by such means 
as classification or zoning. On tax-reverted lands the problems of 
restoration and management are identical with those on institutional 

Except for possible minor modifications the principles which 
should govern management and administration are the same as those 
for Federal lands. A primary consideration will necessarily have 


to be, as for Federal lands, the placing of responsibility for a purely 
agricultural function in agricultural agencies. Widely scattered 
small units will require consolidations through exchanges or other- 
wise. Stocking should be reduced to what the range can safely 
carry (fig. 21). State and Federal cooperation may be helpful in 
some instances. 


A program has been outlined, having as its objective the keeping 
of private ownership as fully in the range picture as reasonable 
financial returns permit, by the removal of existing handicaps and 
the solution of existing problems. 

The swing from public to private ownership has gone so far, 
however, that the maximum feasible self-help by private owners 
supplemented by everything that the public can reasonably be ex- 
pected to contribute will still leave a major problem on a part of the 
376 million acres of range land now privately owned. The classes 
of land involved are : 

1. Approximately 15 million acres of range land on which the 
dry-farming effort has clearly failed, and on which private owner- 
ship now seems to be at the end of its rope. Failure has led to tax 
delinquency, abandonment, excessive relief rolls, and a long train 
of other adverse social and economic consequences. Unless artificial 
revegetation costing from $3 to $3.50 per acre is resorted to, nat- 
ural processes will not restore the forage cover for years or even 
decades. The cost of revegetation or the alternative of protracted 
holding of unproductive land are both beyond the capacity of the 
private owner. Some other constructive action is therefore called 
for on what was, and is potentially, some of the best or most needed 
western range. 

2. Range lands submarginal for private ownership, because of low 
or uncertain forage productivity, excessive depletion and slow re- 
covery, high ownership costs such as investments required, improve- 
ments, taxes, etc. Low productivity and high costs are both accen- 
tuated by marketing costs, which are very high for all of the far 
western range States except California, in comparison with those 
of the Middle Western States. Taking all factors into account, the 
tall-grass prairies and the short-grass plains east of the Rockies 
offer the most favorable opportunities for private ownership, and the 
salt-desert shrub and southern desert shrub of the Intermpuntain 
and Southwest regions the least favorable. The best approximation 
which can now be made places 113 million acres of this category in 
the problem class. 

3. Coinciding closely with the submarginal land area is a large 
area of range lands having high public values for watershed pro- 
tection. The constructive management of these lands is a critical 
watershed problem, and because of the cost of the range restoration, 
restricted grazing, and other special erosion-control measures re- 
quired, from many of which the public rather than the private owner 
will benefit, it is difficult if not impossible to hold them under pri- 
vate ownership. The total area of such watershed lands is about 
118 million acres. It includes about 107 million acres of more or 
less seriously eroding land contributing silt to important western 


4. In the high public-value class are also about 6 million acres 
of privately owned range land needed in part for wildlife. These 
areas are widely scattered and are required to provide for such spe- 
cific wildlife needs as winter ranges for deer and elk herds which 
summer in the national forests. These areas fall almost entirely 
within the two preceding classes. 

5. Within and adjacent to the national forests are about 18.9 mil- 
lion acres of private range land, in part forested, which are needed 
to round out administrative units or for other administrative pur- 
poses and which should be acquired by the Federal Government. 
Some of these lands are probably also submarginal for private 

Except for a small part of the land area discussed above, justifica- 
tion for public ownership depends upon more than one considera- 
tion. Submarginality for the greater part of the area is, for exam- 
ple, accentuated by high public watershed values. After making the 
necessary adjustments for the overlapping of the various classes, 
the area which should be taken over by the public totals on a very 
conservative basis about 125 million acres, or one-third of the range 
land now in private ownership. 

Outright subsidies to hold submarginal and special public-interest 
lands in private ownership are very difficult to justify. For much 
of the area involved they would constitute a perpetual drain on the 
public treasuries, and for the private owner would merely postpone 
the day of final reckoning. Other possible alternatives which should 
be considered for the solution of this problem are very limited. 

Legal regulation of private range lands, and particularly those 
of the classes described, encounters the difficulty that improvements 
in land conditions through better husbandry would cost money, 
while even with past husbandry the cards have been stacked against 
the private owner. Furthermore, regulation would be seriously 
handicapped unless it were supported by the large majority of own- 
ers, which is far from being the case. 

The only additional alternatives seem to be public acquisition of 
the land by tax delinquency, by gift, or by purchase. 

Although the record of both Federal and State management of 
range lands is spotty, the possibilities of constructive management 
have been shown on the national forests and some progress has been 
made on Indian lands. Even without the suggested acquisition pro- 
gram both the Federal Government and the States have large un- 
solved problems of range administration. 

Since public acquisition in one form or another strikes directly 
at the problems of what to do with lands submarginal for private 
ownership and of those having high public values, it seems the only 
possible course, despite the problems for which public agencies still 
have to redeem their responsibilities, the long time which will be re- 
quired for the consummation of the program, and the cost. 

Acquisition by tax delinquency means letting the situation work 
itself out gradually through the play of economic forces. This plan 
has obvious advantages, and regardless of other action will have a 
place in the solution, but against the advantages must be weighed 
further depletion of the range resource, losses from the lack of 
watershed protection, and even more important, an appalling human 


It is quite possible that considerable areas might be given outright 
to either the Federal Government or the States if the way were 
paved. Further inducements might be authority to pay an equitable 
proportion of accrued taxes, or the privilege of free use of the range 
under proper control for a limited number of years. 

For much of the area, however, the only recourse will probably 
be outright purchase. 

The transfer of large areas to Federal ownership will require suit- 
able provision for payments to States and counties in lieu of taxes. 
Similar provision for counties will be necessary for lands acquired 
by the States. 

This report is a first attempt to appraise the nature and extent of 
the various widespread and apparent fundamental maladjustments 
in ownership and in the kind of use of range lands and the remedies 
for them. The conclusions on the desirable or required shifts in 
ownership are necessarily approximations. A large amount of de- 
tailed study covering the entire range territory will be required to 
work out exact areas, locations, etc. Such detailed work is essential 
also to determine an equitable division of responsibility between the 
States and the Federal Government for which the data now available 
does not Justify even an approximation. 

One thing is clear, that the job of range-land acquisition is large 
and that it is essential in the public interest. A reasonable start is 
justified, even though the size of the job is not known with accuracy 
and though a division between the States and the Federal Govern- 
ment remains to be worked out. Since both public action and inac- 
tion have helped to create the problem, it is clearly up to the public 
to initiate efforts for its solution. 


Lack of knowledge, the inevitable outcome of the belated begin- 
ning of research and the small scale on which it has been conducted, 
has been one of the most important contributing factors to rule-of- 
thumb management of the range, and hence to practically universal 
range depletion and to the social and economic maladjustments and 
losses which have resulted. It is partly responsible for allowing 
problems inherently difficult to drift until they have become so acute 
that drastic remedial action is imperative to save a great natural 
resource and the population that is based on it. The high cost of 
the program of rehabilitation is in part the price which must now 
be paid for a lack of knowledge. And ironically, the knowledge 
must still in the main be acquired. 

The only alternative choice to the long, slow, costly, and incon- 
clusive working out of large-scale trial and error in acquiring knowl- 
edge is research. Research, in fact, offers the cheapest and the only 
practical basis for obtaining the information needed to bring about 
the fullest productive use of range lands for livestock grazing, water- 
shed protection, forest growth, recreation, and wildlife, and for a 
sound correlation of these uses. 

Research and the effort necessary to carry the results into applica- 
tion are needed by private owners and equally by the administra- 
tors of public lands. They offer one of the most effective forms of 
public aid to the private owner. 


The major lines of research required are: 

1. Range management, to improve existing systems or to develop 
new systems for handling each of the range types, and covering also 
degree of stocking, seasonal use, class of stock, methods of handling 
livestock under range conditions, restoration by natural revegeta- 
tion and subsequent maintenance in a high state of productivity. 
It must include all forms of use and service. 

Basic to range management is the need for detailed information 
on the characteristics, habits, requirements, value, etc., of individual 
range plants; and also information on the characteristics, behavior, 
competitive relationships, succession, soil, and other requirements, 
etc., of the associations of range plants which form types. 

2. Artificial revegetation, to develop quick, low-cost reseeding 
and transplanting methods of restoring vegetation on the depleted 
ranges for grazing and watershed and other purposes. For artificial 
revegetation there is also the need to develop improved strains of 
range plants or hybrids, and also to explore the possibility of foreign 

3. Watershed investigations, to determine methods of managing 
the plant cover of range watersheds to prevent erosion, silting, and 
floods, and assure the maximum supply of usable water. This in- 
volves a clear understanding of the part that the cover in varying 
degrees of composition, density, etc., and under different soil, topo- 
graphic, climatic, grazing, and other conditions plays in erosion and 
run-off. Practical special-control measures should also be developed 
for use in arresting aggravated erosion as a preliminary to the re- 
establishment of plant cover. 

4. Wildlife, to develop basic principles and methods for restoring 
environmental conditions and for managing the wildlife resource as 
a crop, both in proper relation to other products and services of wild 
lands. This necessitates also a full understanding of the life 
histories, requirements, etc., of the wildlife species. 

5. Animal husbandry, to improve or develop livestock strains es- 
pecially adapted to range conditions and to market requirements, 
and also better breeding and feeding methods. 

6. Economics, to determine the proper place of western range 
livestock production in the local, regional, and national picture ; the 
most effective integration of range and crop agriculture; costs, re- 
turns, profits, and other information needed for the determination 
of satisfactory economic units and for the efficient handling of in- 
dividual enterprises; a sound basis for the highest use of range 
land for grazing or other purposes; a sound allocation between 
private and public ownership and between the States and the Federal 
Government; the basis needed for policies and administration of 
public lands; and, in general, the basis for sound land use and for 
social and economic security. 

7. Additional investigations needed include climate, entomology, 

The range research so far done will permit vast improvements over 
nearly all existing practices so that there is no need for delaying 
initial action on a constructive program. For the full consummation 
of the program recommended, however, it is only a meager beginning. 


The responsibility for range research rests with 

The Federal Government for work on interstate, regional, and 
national problems, and on local problems for the administration of 
Federally owned or controlled lands. 

The States for work on local and State problems and on other 
problems where the administration of State lands or those of minor 
political subdivisions are concerned. 

Endowed institutions have the opportunity for work on a wide 
range of problems, and particularly those of a fundamental 

Private agencies, and associations in particular, have the oppor- 
tunity to round out and supplement the work which other agencies 
can do. 

Past experience has shown that the most effective application of 
the results of agricultural research can be obtained through extension. 
In the range-animal husbandry field extension activities have been 
partly responsible for marked improvements, but extension in range 
management has been almost wholly neglected. Provision for re- 
search fails in its real objective unless its results are made known 
through extension in such a way that they can be applied by the 
private owner. An essential feature is aid and advice in the prepa- 
ration and carrying out of sound management plans. 


Both Federal and State legislation will be required to carry out the 
program recommended. The more important provisions are : 


1. To transfer jurisdiction of the public domain and the grazing 
districts from the Department of the Interior to the Department of 

2. Necessary or desirable modifications of the Grazing Act of June 
28, 1934: 

To place all of the public domain under permanent Federal man- 

To prevent the establishment of prescriptive rights. 

To allow the distribution of grazing privileges necessary for both 
social and economic security to the greatest number entitled to use 
the range. 

To authorize administration of all range resources, forage, water- 
shed, wildlife, in accordance with the multiple-use principle and for 
the highest public benefits. 

To clarify Federal authority in the administration of its own 

To authorize the leasing of isolated tracts of Federal lands of less 
than 640 acres. 

To authorize the President, upon the recommendation of the Na- 
tional Forest Reservation Commission, to transfer to the national 
forests from the public domain or the grazing districts lands which 
in the judgment of the Secretary of Agriculture meet national-forest 


3. Unless fully authorized, as on the Indian reservations, to pro- 
vide for the administration of ranges on all other Federal reserva- 
tions and withdrawals, where not inconsistent with their purposes, 
by the Secretary of Agriculture with the concurrence of the Secre- 
tary of primary jurisdiction. 


1. To authorize the Secretary of Agriculture to transfer to national 
forests or grazing districts, lands purchased by Federal agencies, if 
they meet the qualifications for such unite. 

2. To authorize the Secretary of Agriculture to purchase range 
lands submarginal for private ownership or needed for public benefits 
such as watershed protection, upon approval of the National Forest 
Keservation Commission, and to add them to national forests or 
grazing districts. 

3. To broaden existing authority so that the Secretary of Agri- 
culture could make exchanges with private or other public owners 
within or adjacent to national forests or grazing districts on the 
basis of equal land or grazing values, in order to consolidate owner- 
ships for more efficient administration, and also to pay costs of 
transfer and an equitable part of unpaid taxes on donated lands. 


To provide for the classification by the Secretary of Agriculture of 
Federal lands in the public domain as most suitable for private own- 
ership, as a prerequisite for alienation, coupled with other provisions 
as to maximum size of units, etc., which will prevent a repetition of 
the mistakes of the past. More study will be necessary to afford a 
satisfactory basis for such legislation. 


To provide for aid to private owners through extension in coopera- 
tion with State agencies. 


Legislation which will substitute for sale or other disposal to 
private owners the retention and sustained yield management of 
range lands now in State ownership or which may hereafter be 
acquired, which are unsuitable for private ownership. This will 
include : 

1. Possible revision of State constitutions and Federal enabling 

2. The setting up of professionally qualified administrative 

3. The revision where necessary of tax-delinquency legislation. 

4. Provision for consolidations through exchanges with private 
owners and the Federal Government. 

5. Provision for classification by competent agricultural agencies 
as a prerequisite to passage to private ownership. 

6. Provision for cooperation with the Federal Government on the 
administration of intermingled holdings. 


7. Provision for the acquisition by gift or purchase and manage- 
ment of lands submarginal for private ownership or having high 
public values. 

8. Provision for cooperative aid to private owners of range land, 
in research and extension. 

9. Authority to form cooperative range management associations. 

10. Provision for the handling of wildlife: On a sustained crop- 
management basis; with professionally trained organizations; under 
flexible laws which outline principles but delegate authority to make 
adjustments in administration necessary to meet rapidly changing 
conditions; in cooperation with the Federal Government on Federal 
lands; some reasonable incentive to private owners to protect and 
produce wildlife on their lands. 


The cost of carrying out any such constructive program as that 
outlined for 728 million acres of range land will be high. Unfortu- 
nately, postponement will only increase the final cost, because the 
longer the destructive forces now in effect continue the more the 
ground that must be regained. The cost will fall upon the Federal 
Government, the States, and private owners. 

The following estimates of cost are based on 30 years' experience 
in the handling of the national forests and on special surveys con- 
ducted on the public domain and on privately owned lands. The 
estimates are for the amounts believed necessary to carry out the 
program recommended. In the light of extended national forest 
experience in which the rebuilding of the range resource has been 
retarded by inadequate funds, it is not believed that the public 
ranges, at least, can be restored and maintained for less than the 
amounts stated. The estimates are given because of the conviction 
that the public should have a full understanding of probable costs 
before embarking on a much larger enterprise than that now under 
way. No estimates have been made for special erosion control be- 
cause of uncertainty as to the area which should receive special treat- 
ment other than revegetation, and what such treatment would cost. 
Special treatments are still in an early developmental stage. 

The proposed expenditures fall into four categories capital in- 
vestments in improvements, current expenditures for administration, 
the public acquisition of land, and research and extension. 


Annual costs first 5-year period 

Capital investments, including range surveys, fences, water develop- 
ment, revegetation, rodent control, etc $1, 140, 000 

Grazing administration on 82.5 million acres at $0.0149 per acre 

(present cost $0.0089 per acre or $734,000) 1,234,000 

Wildlife administration on 120 million acres at $0.006 per acre 

(present cost $0.0018 per acre or $216,000) 720,000 

Maintenance and replacement of improvements 742,000 

Total annual cost 3, 836, 000 

For the second 5-year period annual expenditures for capital in- 
vestments would be reduced to $910,000 and for the maintenance and 


replacement of improvements increased to $986,000, making the total 
annual cost $3,850,000. 


Annual costs first 5-year period 

Capital investments, chiefly revegetation, 149.4 million acres $3, 536, 000 

Grazing administration at $0.0151 per acre 2, 260, 000 

Wildlife administration at $0.001 per acre 150, 000 

Total annual cost 5, 946, 000 

For the second 5-year period annual expenditures for capital in- 
vestments would be reduced to $3,403,000, and for maintenance and 
replacement of improvements would amount to $550,000, so that the 
total annual cost would be $6,363,000. 


Annual costs -first 5-year period 

Capital investments, 48.4 million acres $766,000 

Grazing administration, at $0.011 per acre (present cost $0.005 per 

acre, or $242,000) . __ 532,000 

Wildlife administration, at $0.001 per acre 48,000 

Maintenance and replacement of improvements , 75, 000 

Total annual cost 1,421,000 

For the second 5-year period annual expenditures for capital in- 
vestments would be reduced to $532,000, and for maintenance and 
replacement of improvements would be increased to $232,000, so 
that the total annual cost would be $1,344,000. 


Annual costs first 5-year period 

Capital investments, 65 million acres $1,313,000 

Administration (minimum) 754, 000 

Total annual cost . 2,067,000 

During the second 5-year period, maintenance and replacement 
of improvements would probably cost about $150,000 annually, mak- 
ing the total annual cost $2,217,000. 


The annual capital investments needed during the first 10-year 
period on the 376 million acres now in private ownership is esti- 
mated at $6,416,000, of which the largest item is about $4,800,000 for 
revegetation. Incidental labor will take care of a substantial part of 
this cost, and furthermore it will be reduced by the rate and extent 
that the public assumes the burden through acquisition of the poorer 
private lands where costs of restoration, etc., would be highest. 



The acquisition of 125 million acres of submarginal watershed and 
other high public-value land would require at least 20 years. Taking 
into account gifts with or without payment of accrued taxes, tax 
delinquency, and direct purchase, the cost might average $1 per acre, 
or about $6,300,000 annually. 

The annual cost of public administration is estimated at about 
$0.015 per acre, to which should be added capital investments of 
about $0.017 per acre annually during the first 10 years. The rate 
at which total annual costs build up will be governed by the speed 
of acquisition. The latter figures duplicate estimates already given 
and will correspondingly reduce the expenditures by private owners. 

The Federal and State shares of these costs will obviously depend 
upon the division of the areas acquired between these agencies. 


To meet the requirements for all classes of range research it is 
estimated that expenditures by all agencies should reach an annual 
total of $2,750,000 in a 10-year period, this by gradual increases over 
current expenditures of about $750,000. Of the former total the 
Federal Government should assume the responsibility for about 
$2,000,000 and the States for $550,000, leaving a $200,000 balance for 
other agencies. 

The cost of range extension estimated at $1,000.000 annually should 
be borne about equally by the Federal Government and the States. 
The estimated maximum cost should, if possible, be reached in about 
10 years. 


The high cost of rehabilitation and administration of publicly 
owned range lands makes the possibility of self-liquidation a ques- 
tion of both public and private interest. 

Looking ahead, it is doubtful if the Federal Government can any 
more than break even on any comprehensive program of range res- 
toration and intensive management on the national forests and the 
grazing districts, even though grazing fees on the national forests 
were ultimately increased by about 30 percent above the base fees, 
and those on the grazing districts were made approximately equal 
to the national forest base fees. 

Even then, account is taken neither of the uncertain cost of special 
erosion-control measures nor of Federal contributions to States and 
counties in lieu of taxes, which in a sense are the transfer of funds 
from one public purse to another. 

Grazing fees high enough on both the national forests and the 
grazing districts to enable the Federal Government to break approxi- 
mately even seem fully justified. Fully productive, well-managed 
ranges should result in higher returns to the stockmen and justify 
somewhat higher fees than those now charged on the national forests 
and those apparently contemplated for the grazing districts. 

Sight should not be lost of the fact, however, that the public 
receives other tangible and intangible benefits from fully produc- 

6494636 6 


tive ranges. Among the largest and most important of these are 
the far-reaching benefits from watershed protection. Of great im- 
portance also is the fact that range use can hardly be eliminated 
from western agriculture without wrecking the entire structure. 
Furthermore, range livestock production alone furnishes a liveli- 
hood for a large number of people. Other benefits in which both 
the Federal and State governments share are the sustained taxable 
value of related lands, income and other taxes, and direct and in- 
direct returns from hunting, fishing, and recreational use. 

Essentially the same considerations hold on State range lands 
as on Federal. 

Despite radical readjustments and increased capital investments, 
the program proposed should work out to the financial advantage 
of the private owner. He should gradually be relieved of submar- 
ginal and high public-value lands. His financial handicaps should 
be reduced. He should have the advantage of an increasing volume 
of cheap range feed, of increased unit livestock production, of de- 
creased production costs, and of greater profits. 


In the complex range pattern, with its multiplicity of interrelated 
overlapping problems, which require a corresponding multiplicity 
of interrelated overlapping remedial measures, a clear-cut focal 
point a center of responsibility among public agencies is neces- 
sary in planning, initiating, correlating, and consummating action 
if public obligations are to be redeemed. 

This is true of privately owned range lands and livestock, in 
which the maximum of self-help ordinarily depends on some meas- 
ure of public leadership and aid to create conditions under which 
self-help can be effective or even start. 

It is equally true of publicly owned range lands where, as already 
shown, the splitting of jurisdiction of this agricultural problem 
between different agencies almost inevitably means working at cross 
purposes, inefficiency, and excessive costs. Furthermore, public 
lands cannot be divorced from their surroundings. Such lands have 
a direct and vital bearing on the ranch owner and his welfare and 
must be handled in full recognition of this fact. This bearing ex- 
tends far beyond private range lands and livestock to private crop- 
lands, and to the entire agricultural structure. 

A check of the broader groups of problems and their solution will 
still further illustrate and emphasize this point of view. 

Take for example the broad group of problems centering in the 
reversal of the range and soil-depletion process, and requiring such 
action as the removal of large numbers of excess stock. 

Or take the equally broad group of ownership and use problems 
requiring large shifts from private to public ownership, or range 
restoration on mistakenly cropped lands, or the building of units of 
economic size. 

Or the large number of additional problems of private ownership 
requiring the removal of financial handicaps or the recognition of 
the responsibility of stewardship. 

Or the problems already referred to involving lands now in public 
ownership or those hereafter acquired. 


Or the problem of knowledge and its application, requiring range 
and livestock and land-use research and extension. 

Or those centering in human wastage in agricultural communi- 
ties requiring action to insure social and economic security. 

The lack of clear-cut centralized responsibility up to the present 
time has undoubtedly contributed in a major way to the neglect and 
abuse of the range resource. In far too many instances what has 
been everyone's responsibility has been no one's responsibility. It 
seems futile to continue an arrangement which has led to such re- 
sults. Centralized responsibility affords the only way in which the 
general public can hope to hold its agencies to a strict accountability. 

Any consideration of Federal activities other than the jurisdiction 
over Federal range lands research, extension, general agricultural 
integration, and aid in various other forms make still more con- 
clusive the fundamental soundness of the centralization of full Fed- 
eral responsibility in the Department of Agriculture for an activity 
which is agriculture to the core. 

Within their spheres of action the States must face and meet sim- 
ilar problems of responsibility and organization. 


The program outlined for the solution of the range problem runs 
into very large sums of money which will constitute a heavy drain, 
particularly on Federal and State treasuries. Large as they are, 
these expenditures are only a part of the price which must be paid 
for the wasteful use and destruction of a great natural resource. 
Still another part of the price is the time over which the reconstruc- 
tion effort must continue. It has taken little more than half a cen- 
tury to reduce the productivity of the range by about half, and it 
will probably take at least as long to bring it back to a grazing 
capacity equivalent to present stocking. The cost will be a heavy 
public burden, regardless of the possibility of direct returns that 
in the long run may make the enterprise self -liquidating. 

Is restoration worth while? This question should be raised and 
squarely faced before a final decision is made. Perhaps the soundest 
decision can be reached by contrasting what will happen if the effort 
is not made, with the benefits if it is. 


If drastic and immediate action to restore the range resource is 
not taken, it seems inevitable that depletion will continue. Whether 
it continues more or less rapidly than in the past, the end result is 
bound to be the same the Great American Desert, once only a name, 
will become that in fact. If anyone questions the inexorable work- 
ing of the cause and effect he need only examine the history of the 
semiarid pastoral countries of southwestern Asia and the Mediter- 
ranean. The more precarious range types of the Southwest and In- 
termountain region will merely be the first to qualify, but the other 
and more favorable types are certain to follow sooner or later. 

The gradual destruction of the basic forage and soil resource will 
inevitably in time reach the point where the range livestock industry 
can no longer exist, The range alone can furnish the cheap feed 


which is the most important competitive advantage in livestock pro- 
duction of all except one of the 11 far- western States. With the 
elimination of the range must consequently go the gradual elimina- 
tion of the western livestock industry itself. 

Along with the industry must go its contribution to the meat, 
wool, and hide, and other requirements of the country. The extent 
to which this might make the United States dependent on foreign 
supplies is uncertain, but there can be no question that it will place 
us in a less favorable position in which to meet future emergency 
requirements, such, for example, as that of the World War. 

No distinction can be drawn between the dependence on the range 
of livestock and of wildlife. The flood and erosion situation on de- 
pleted ranges is rapidly becoming more and more serious, and this 
tendency would certainly continue and its effect would become more 
and more far reaching. Not least in importance will be reduction in 
the effective life of the irrigation reservoirs which depend upon 
watershed protection. 

Crop agriculture is now so closely integrated with the use of the 
range that it is almost certain to suffer in other ways than impaired 
water supplies as range problems become more and more acute. 

And whatever injures either or both will extend into communi- 
ties, towns, and cities dependent upon a prosperous agriculture, and 
affect supply services, banking, transportation, and in fact all other 
industries which are a part of the existing western civilization. 
Reduced tax returns will curtail essential public activities. 

The social wastage growing out of range depletion and the various 
maladjustments in the use of range lands has already been very 
large, but is inconsequential in comparison with the wastage which 
will be inevitable if any large part of the range is entirely destroyed. 


An area of 728 million acres of restored and fully productive 
range cannot be otherwise than a source of perpetual wealth. 

The maintenance of this range area would, according to the best 
information now available, carry at least 17.1 million animal units 
of domestic livestock 50 years hence, as compared to the 17.3 million 
units which are now rapidly depreciating the range, and the 10.8 
million units which it can now carry in safety (fig. 22). The gain 
in the value of livestock production between the present and poten- 
tial grazing capacity would undoubtedly justify the entire annual 
cost of restoration several times over. 

Serious depletion was one of the primary causes of the 1934 Fed- 
eral expenditure of $100,000,000 to purchase starving western-range 
livestock. The elimination or the drastic reduction of such expendi- 
tures, which range restoration should make possible, would make a 
major contribution to the cost of the program recommended. From 
the standpoint of broad public policy the choice lies between mere 
alleviation by periodic repetition, leaving the basic problem un- 
touched, and striking directly and constructively at a primary cause 
in order to make such expenditures unnecessary in the future. 

Erosion and destructive floods would gradually be reduced to a 
minimum, and the life of irrigation and other reservoirs greatly ex- 
tended. The reduction in the annual flood-damage bill alone would 



go a long way toward carrying the annual cost of a constructive 
program. Wildlife could again assume a proper place among the 
products of the range and make its contributions to western life. 

Only by restoration is it possible to make the range contribute as 
it should to working out a satisfactory balanced and hence a 
permanently prosperous western agriculture. Sources of livelihood 
now so badly needed with the passing of the frontier and the replace- 

Grazing Capacity- 
Potential (SOyrs 
Grazing Capacity! 


Grazing Capacity 
on Virgin Range__ 

5 10 15 20 




The present grazing capacity of the available range area, estimated at 10.8 million animal 
units could, it is conservatively estimated, be increased to 17.1 million units in 50 
years if the entire range area is placed under management in the immediate future. 
But even this increase would fall 0.2 of a million units short of what stockmen are now 
trying to carry on ranges whose productive capacity has already been reduced by 
more than half. How much longer would be required to reach the original capacity 
of 22.5 million units no man can say, but it might well be another half century. 
Aside from human inertia, the chief retarding factor in both instances would be the 
long, slow process of rebuilding the soil. 

ment of labor by machinery in manufacturing, high standards of 
living, stable communities and general social and economic well- 
being, reasonable prices to the ultimate consumer, all depend vitally 
upon the proper handling of natural resources, among which the 
western range must occupy a conspicuous place. 

With such contrasts in probable losses and possible benefits a 
recommendation for affirmative action is the only one that can be 


By RICHARD E. MCAEDLE, Director, and DAVID F. COSTEIXO, Assistant Conserva- 
tionist, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station 

The transcontinental traveler of today would have difficulty in 
visualizing the western range as it was before occupancy by the white 
man and his domestic livestock, for little virgin range remains in 
the western United States. But nearly a century ago the "forty- 
niner", on his way overland to the Pacific coast, found a vast, un- 
spoiled natural reservoir of forage extending from the Mississippi 
River to the Pacific Ocean and from Canada to Mexico. Much of 
it was called at that time the "Great American Desert" an immense 
region of rolling grassland, parched deserts, and rugged mountains ; 
inhabited only by Indians and roving herds of buffalo, elk, and other 
animals; with treacherous rivers to be forded and long stretches 
without water of any kind, with mud or dust, blistering heat or 
sudden snowstorms. Who among these overland voyagers could have 
dreamed that within a few short decades other settlers would engage 
in fierce wars among themselves for possession of this "desert" land ; 
how could they have guessed that this land would produce five times 
more wealth for the Nation through the pasturage of livestock than 
all the gold they would dig out of the earth with their picks and 
shovels ? For this vast desert, plain, and mountain country was soon 
to become the great western range. 

Before agricultural settlement by the white man, the virgin range 
comprised the western two-thirds of the United States. If nongraz- 
able lands such as mountain tops, almost barren deserts and dense 
forests, are excluded, it encompassed nearly 850 million acres. As 
might be expected for so large an area, there were tremendous varia- 
tions in topography, soil, and climate. These great differences in 
environment resulted in correspondingly great differences in the kind 
of vegetation. In some places the range was a natural grassland 
that stretched for mile upon mile without bush or tree to break the 
monotony of the landscape. Other areas, less extensive, were brushy, 
the intermingled grasses and weeds being inconspicuous though pres- 
ent in considerable quantities. Elsewhere the range was clothed 
with forests, but frequently these forests were sufficiently open to 
permit the establishment of shrubs, grass, and herbaceous plants 
beneath the forest canopy. 

Each of these three main classes of vegetation grasslands, brush, 
and forests included several distinctive types, areas characteristi- 
cally possessing one or more outstanding vegetational features which 
caught the eye and lingered in the memory of the early-day trans- 
continental travelers. Their diaries describe how in journeying west- 
ward they spent weeks crossing first the tall-grass prairies and then 
the short-grass plains, "endless" grasslands extending to the very 
foot of the Rocky Mountains (fig. 25, p. 85). Those who traveled 



the Oregon Trail encountered bunchgrass plains in what is now east- 
ern Oregon and Washington, and those who reached the central 
valley of California saw a similar type. Pioneers who traveled far 
to the Southwest found near the Mexican border another type, the 
semidesert grass. 

The overland travelers eventually were obliged to leave the open, 
grassy plains for the more laborious passage through the brush of 
deserts, foothills, and lower mountain slopes. Along the northern 
trails this type was sagebrush in which there was considerable grass ; 
in the far Southwest was a quite different type consisting of various 
southern desert shrubs, such as the creosotebush and saltbushes (fig. 
30, p. 95) . In southwestern Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and the South- 
west the pioneers encountered salt- desert shrubs on alkaline soils, and 
in California these adventurers of covered-wagon days found chap- 
arral, a dense mixture of a hundred different brush and tree species 
forming almost impenetrable thickets on the foothills. 

On the mountain sides above the brush fields were open forests of 
gnarled piiion and juniper (fig. 34, p. 101). jAt still higher eleva- 
tions, or where the soil was more moist, they encountered parklike 
open forests of ponderosa pine and of aspen and fir. Denser forests 
of spruce and fir, western white pine, redwood, Douglas fir, spruce, 
hemlock, and lodgepole pine occurred over large areas but inter- 
mingled with these forests were open, grassy meadows of varying 


This varied succession of range types was found widely scattered 
throughout the West, often extending without a break over large 
areas. Other types were local only. The descriptions of the indi- 
vidual types which follow give a more detailed picture of the many 
different kinds of grazing lands found in the virgin range. The 
approximate total acreage 3 and grazing capacity of each range type 
in its virgin condition are given in the next chapter. 


Probably no part of the western range produced palatable and 
nutritious forage in such abundance as the tall-grass prairies. Not 
only was there an enormous volume of vegetation on the 42 million 
acres in this type, 4 but there was scarcely a grass, weed, or shrub 
present which could not be eaten by grazing animals. When the 
white man first settled in the Midwest, the prairie extended wedge- 
like from Illinois northwesterly into Canada and southwesterly into 
Texas. Its western boundary, though very irregular, was in the 
Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma, where the tall grass of 
the prairies gradually merged with the short grass of the plains. 

The vegetation of the prairies varied with topography, soil, and 
moisture, but always dominating these gently rolling lands was a 
mixture of several species of tall grass. An intermingling of half- 

8 Areas of range types in their virgin condition are approximations based on estimates 
by skilled observers and tempered by reasonably accurate information on extent of the 
types 50 to 100 years ago, their recent expansions and contractions and the area in each 
type which has been used for agricultural crops, roads, etc. 

4 This was the area of tall grass within the limits of the present range, west of the 
boundary shown in fig. 25, p. 85. East of this boundary, the prairie tall-grass type cov- 
ered approximately 210 million acres, or a total of about 252 million acres. 


shrubs and multitudinous flowers gave the landscape variety and 
color. In the moist bottom lands sloughgrass grew tall as a horse's 
back. On the drier slopes other grasses, 2 or 3 feet tall, such as the 
bluejoint turkeyfoot ("big bluestem"), the prairie beardgrass ("little 
bluestem"), Indian grass, wild-rye, and switchgrass formed socie- 
ties, characteristic in themselves, but all a part of the greater forma- 
tion that was the prairie. The still drier uplands were carpeted with 
shorter grasses, bluestem, needlegrasses, side-oats grama, and in some 
places by the bunch-forming sand dropseed. Interspersed with 
these were semiwoody and herbaceous plants that bloomed with the 
change of season: goldenrods, wild daisies, the wreath aster, and a 
host of associates. The silvery canescence of the leadplant or "prai- 
rie shoestring", the bright yellow of the sunflower, the white of the 
anemone, and the brilliant orange of the butterflyweed, or "pleurisy- 
root", intermingled with the green background of the prairie grasses 
in a beautiful and intricate mosaic. In late summer these bright 
colors slowly faded as the vegetation dried and the prairie became a 
vast sea of rusty brown. 

The prairie was productive. It is hard to picture today the vast 
numbers of wild fowl golden plovers, prairie chickens, geese, and 
ducks that inhabited this region. Countless bison grazed in massive 
herds over the country where later the settler was to find good 
pasturage for his livestock. Its vastness, its productivity, and the 
ease with which it restored itself all contributed toward making the 
prairie an exceedingly valuable range resource. 


As the pioneer moved westward the tall-grass prairies gradually 
gave way to an endless carpet of sod-forming grasses much shorter 
than those of the prairies. These vast short-grass plains were for 
the most part fairly level and extended from the Panhandle of Texas 
northward beyond the Canadian border. The eastern edge was near 
the center of the present States of Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dako- 
tas; westward it stretched to the very foothills of the Rocky 
Mountains, forming a belt from 300 to 600 miles wide and 280 
million acres in extent. 

The plains country received very much less rain than the prairies, 
and, as a consequence, was dominated by grama and buffalo grass, 
which needed relatively little water. The deeper-rooted, moisture- 
requiring tall grasses and herbs so typical of the prairies were 
almost entirely excluded. 

This vast area of sod-grasses was not, however, uniform in compo- 
sition throughout its entire extent. Along the western edge of the 
short-grass belt in Montana and Wyoming, the short-grass type 
alternated with the sagebrush and was further modified by a gener- 
ous admixture of several other valuable forage plants including 
wheatgrass and junegrass. Further south, along the western edge 
of the short-grass plains, the grama was mixed with a great variety 
of palatable herbaceous plants, some of which also were found in the 
nearby mountains. In what is now western Kansas and Oklahoma, 
eastern Colorado, northeastern New Mexico, and the Texas Pan- 
handle, buffalo grass, galleta grass, and other grasses appeared in 
greater abundance than in the more northerly portions of the type 


Various annuals of moderate or low palatibility also appeared: 
Woolly Indian- wheat, sixweeks fescue, rough pennyroyal, and west- 
ern stickseed; and during wet years, perennial grasises such as 
needle-and-thread and sand dropseed, together with various weeds, 
developed a taller cover. Elsewhere, bluestem ("western wheat- 
grass") and western needlegrass added greatly to the luxuriant 
appearance of the short-grass cover. In the transition zone between 
the prairies and the plains, the sod cover was more open, and 
included deep-rooted plants of the tall-grass type such as "wire- 
grass" and bush morning-glory. 

Grama, buffalo grass, and most of the other species of the short- 
grass type were palatable and nutritious. Although the short grasses 
matured early, their cured leaves remained as valuable forage and 
were available the year round except when covered with snow. In- 
jurious species were at a minimum. The high grazing capacity of 
the range is indicated by the enormous herds of buffalo which 
roamed these plains. 


In western Montana, southwestern Idaho, eastern Washington and 
Oregon, and in central California the pioneer found a luxuriant 
grassland that resembled the prairies but with the additional char- 
acteristic of many grasses growing in tufts or bunches. This bunch- 
grass type was so luxuriant in its virgin condition that explorers 
made frequent comments concerning it. Commander Wilkes (186) 5 
wrote in 1841 of north central Oregon : "These hills, as well as the 
country nearer at hand, were covered with a natural hay or bunch- 
grass, which affords very nutritious food for cattle", and again near 
Walla Walla in eastern Washington, "To the north and south are 
extensive prairies, covered with the natural hay of the country, on 
which the cattle feed." Fremont (55) wrote of eastern Oregon in 
1 843 : "The mountains were covered with good bunchgrass" ; and later 
Stuart (138) recorded: 

We crossed the Rocky Mountain Divide on the 10th day of October, 1857, 
where the station called Monida now is on the Oregon Short Line railroad. As 
soon as we had crossed the divide a wonderful change appeared in the country. 
Instead of the gray sagebrush covered plains of Snake River, we saw smooth 
rounded hills and sloping benchland covered with yellow bunchgrass that waved 
in the wind like a field of grain. 

These testimonials as to the character, productivity, and palata- 
bility of the vegetation abounding in this territory are further sub- 
stantiated by scattered remnants of the original vegetation, not so 
easily read as diaries but far more realistic. Cemeteries, fence 
corners, and moderately grazed fields indicate an abundance of 
palatable and nutritious bluebunch wheatgrass, Idaho fescue, giant 
wild-rye, bluegrass, and needlegrass. Not so abundant, but highly 
important as forage, were palatable weeds, such as balsamroot, 
hawksbeard, mountain-dandelion, and sunflower. 

Farther south, in California, was a similar native bunchgrass 
prairie closely resembling the bunchgrass prairies of the Pacific 
Northwest. The more important forage species were bluegrass, june- 

6 Italic numbers In parenthesis refer to literature cited, p. 557. 


grass, oniongrass, needlegrass, wild-rye, and squirreltail grasses. 
Clements (&4) describes a nearly continuous area of California 
needlegrass several hundred miles long which once existed there. 
Mixed with these more valuable grasses were clovers, lupines, sun- 
flowers, poppies, and innumerable other herbs in infinite variety. 

Although totaling only about 61 million acres and small in com- 
parison with the tremendous area occupied by the short-grass plains, 
the Pacific bunchgrass type was undoubtedly the finest grassland 
west of the Rocky Mountains. It provided valuable forage for 
immense numbers of wild animals and later was to become equally 
valuable for pasturage of domestic livestock. 


South of the short-grass plains and paralleling the Mexican border 
in Texas, New Mexico, and southern Arizona occurred a discontinu- 
ous belt of arid grassland which resembled the plains to some ex- 
tent. But the vegetation of these semidesert grasslands was quite 
different from that of the true short-grass type. In addition to the 
grasses, many parts of the area supported a scraggly growth of 
thorny shrubs and low trees. It covered approximately 93 million 
acres, extending over broad, flat valleys, low hills, and mesa tops 
and up onto the lower slopes of the mountains. 

The most valuable forage plants in this type were three grasses: 
Rothrock ("crowfoot") grama, black grama, and curly-mesquite. In 
some localities Rothrock grama formed rather dense stands having 
the appearance of fields of short cereal, and on the lower foothills 
curly-mesquite occurred in sufficient density to form a sod that in 
many ways resembled the buffalo-grama sod of the plains. These 
nutritious grasses, however, though distributed widely throughout 
the type, comprised only a relatively small portion of its total area. 
More widely distributed was the black grama, which sparsely covered 
the sandy and gravelly slopes between the river bottoms and the 

Scattered through this grass type were thorny shrubs and dwarfed 
trees such as mesquite, mimosa, catclaw, and other acacias, hack- 
berries, creosotebusn, jojoba, ceanothus, and low-growing live oaks. 
Interspersed with these were pricklypear and other cacti, yucca or 
Spanish-bayonet, and other plants characteristic of regions of little 
rainfall. None of these latter species were of appreciable value for 

The diaries of the early explorers and the accounts of later travelers 
through the Southwest seldom or never mentioned any difficulty in 
finding forage for their animals. The immense numbers of pack and 
draft animals and cattle that year after year followed the Butterfield 
and old Texas-California cattle trails through this type were able 
to maintain themselves on the natural forage during months of 


One of the most distinctive range types which the early travelers 
encountered was the sagebrush-grass. The pioneers of the Oregon 
Trail seldom were out of the sagebrush type from the time they 
entered it in eastern Wyoming until they reached the Cascade Range 
in central Oregon; or if they turned southward in southern Idaho 


they found it all the way through Nevada to the foothills of the 

The traveler, accustomed to the green prairies of the Midwest, 
found the dull, gray expanse of the sagebrush forbidding and barren, 
but in reality this type had many attractive features. 

There are many lovely plants that blossom in early spring, filling the air 
with fragrance, and. in summer and fall the yellow of sunflowers and of the 
still more plentiful rabbitbrush, a relative of the goldenrod, frequently give 
broad dashes of brilliant color. Beneath the sagebrush in a state of nature 
nutritious bunchgrass grows abundantly (112). 

A significant feature of the virgin sagebrush type was the abun- 
dance of palatable grasses and weeds which grew under and between 
the shrubs. Prominent among these were the wheatgrasses, blue- 
bunch fescue, needlegrasses, wild-rye, Indian ricegrass, wild gera- 
nium, balsamroot, and yarrow. Of lesser importance as forage but 
of frequent occurrence were hawksbeard, phlox, sunflower, lupine, 
and many other species. This cover of grass and weeds beneath the 
sagebrush varied in density with soil and moisture conditions from 
a thin stand such as in the Snake River plains of Idaho to a fairly 
thick sod as in the mountains along the foothills in Montana. 

Occasional very dense stands of sagebrush were found, but as a 
rule the individual plants were several feet apart, forming open 
diminutive forests from 2 to 7 feet in height. Mingled with the 
silvery gray foliage of the sagebrush were other browse species such 
as bud sagebrush ("bud-sage"), bitterbrush, and rabbitbrush. 

Throughout its range the sagebrush type occurred in streaks and 
patches along rivers and streams as well as on areas of poorer and 
drier soils. It was found on extensive plains, on the rolling foot- 
hills, and extended upward on dry mountain slopes to merge with 
open forests of pinon-juniper and ponderosa pine. 

In its primitive condition, the rich understory of grasses and weeds 
beneath the "sage" provided abundant feed in spring and fall for 
deer and other animals that migrated between plains and foothills 
and the higher elevations. On the broad plains, nutritious forage 
was available throughout the year. Because of its widespread oc- 
currence over 90 million acres and its high forage value, the sage- 
brush-grass type was unquestionably one of the most important of 
all the original western ranges. 


Driest of all the range types was the southern desert shrub, of 
which the greater portion was in southwestern Arizona, southern 
Nevada, and southeastern California. Smaller areas occurred in 
southern and western Texas and southern New Mexico near the 
Mexican border. The Mohave Desert is included within this type 
as are also the lower valleys of the Rio Grande and of the Colorado, 
Gila, and Pecos Rivers. In its original condition only 25 of the 
approximately 51 million acres in this type were of appreciable value 
for grazing. 

Owing to extremely high temperatures and very low rainfall, this 
type has never produced sufficient vegetation to make it a very 
dependable part of the range resource. Travelers, however, invari- 
ably were impressed with the bizarre and varied appearance of the 
plants on these sun-scorched desert lands. There was little uni- 


f ormity in the plant cover. Gray stretches of desert saltbush formed 
dense thickets 3 or 4 feet tall in the valleys. Over extensive tracts, 
widely spaced creosotebushes gave the appearance of scrubby 
orchards. On the surrounding hills and ridges were varied forms 
of cacti, centuryplants, agaves, and yuccas; this portion of the 
desert must have been interesting, picturesque, and even weird with 
its great columnar cacti, spiny paloverdes, the radiating stems of 
ocotillo, and the beauty and variety of myriads of bright-colored 
flowers which appeared for brief intervals after the infrequent rains. 
Over most of the range, palatable forage was provided by mesquite 
browse and weeds which sprang up after rains. With increase in 
elevation toward the fringing mountains, however, the vegetation 
became more abundant, and at the highest elevations within the 
type were such true forage plants as Rothrock and black gramas, 
alkali sacaton, lovegrasses, and three-awns, and in certain situations 
saltgrass and galleta. 


On the rolling alkaline soils of southwestern Wyoming, southern 
Idaho, Utah, and Nevada was the salt-desert shrub type, covering 
about 42 million acres, which resembled a low, scattered sagebrush 
formation. The predominant vegetation was a mixture of palatable 
low shrubs and scattered grasses. The most nutritious browse plants 
were shadscale, bud sagebrush, winterfat, and rabbitbrush. The 
most valuable grasses were wild-rye, squirreltail, Indian ricegrass, 
galleta, and alkali sacaton, and although these seldom were thick 
enough to develop a sod they formed fairly close stands in the less 
alkaline situations. 

The composition of the plant cover varied according to the salt 
content of the soil, and consequently different areas were dominated 
by different species. Where the salt content was extremely high, 
pickleweeds and seepweeds occurred over great level expanses, but 
these were unpalatable and never of value for grazing. Under more 
favorable soil conditions the alkali sacaton formed a close sod over 
extensive flats where clumps of yellow-flowered rabbitbrush, 2 or 3 
feet high, frequently appeared. On moderately alkaline areas, 
greasewood plants 2 to 5 feet in height were more or less evenly 
spaced from 5 to 8 feet apart; their bright green foliage contrasted 
strongly with the ashen hue of the low, hemispheric clumps of shad- 
scale which frequently grew in mixture with the greasewood. 

Even in its primitive condition the percentage of ground covered 
by the salt-desert vegetation was slight. A recent survey in Nevada 
of railroad rights-of-way which have been fenced for more than 30 
years showed that grass covered only 1 percent and browse less than 
3 percent of the total ground area. But even this apparently scant 
cover of vegetation furnished feed for thousands of game animals 
each winter. 


The first forest type usually encountered by the pioneers after 
crossing the Great Plains on their westward trek was the pifion- 
juniper. These low-growing, open forests of pifion pines and juni- 
pers occurred over Y4 million acres from the eastern foothills of the 
Rocky Mountains in Colorado westward to central Oregon and 


south through the foothill country of Utah, Nevada, eastern Cal- 
ifornia, Arizona, and New Mexico. On the lower slopes of high 
mountains the pinon- juniper type formed a transition zone between 
the treeless sagebrush or similar shrub types and the denser forests 
growing at higher elevations. In many places, particularly on the 
elongated low ridges of Nevada, pifions and junipers were the only 
forest trees present in any abundance. Here the type occurred as 
large islands in a sea of sagebrush. The pinon- juniper type extended 
without a break over thousands of acres throughout the Southwest, 
and long fingers of this fringe forest type followed low, rocky ridges 
and other broken ground out into the semidesert plains. 

The pifions and junipers were short, dense-crowned trees 20 to 40 
feet tall, the individual trees generally growing rather far apart. 
Along the upper edge of the pinon- jumper belt, the pines often 
dominated the forest mixture, whereas, at the lower edge of the belt, 
the junipers ordinarily occurred in greater abundance than pine. 

The pinon-juniper type was an important forage resource. The 
wide spacing of the trees permitted the development of consider- 
able browse such as mountain-mahogany, bitterbrush, and cliffrose, 
as well as many palatable grasses and weeds, the more prevalent of 
which were the gramas, needlegrass, wheatgrass, bluegrass, and 


Around the sides of the great central valley of California, on the 
low hills along the Pacific Coast from San Francisco south to Mex- 
ico, and in southern Arizona, the early-day traveler found vast brush 
fields composed of not one but dozens of different species of shrubs. 
These almost impenetrable thickets of bushes and stunted hardwood 
trees later acquired the name "chaparral." Associated with these 
chaparral thickets were large areas of comparatively open wood- 
land, parklike stretches characterized by various species of oaks, and 
an understory of palatable grasses and herbs. Just as the pinon- 
juniper type elsewhere in the Southwest formed a transition zone 
between the grass or desert-shrub vegetation of the plains and the 
forests of the higher mountain slopes, so the woodland-chaparral 
formed a transition zone between the grass types and the higher 
mountain forests in southern California and Arizona. In California 
alone, the woodland-chaparral type covered about 10 million acres. 

Although more than a hundred different species of shrubs and 
dwarfed trees intermingled to form this peculiar plant cover, its 
species composition varied considerably in different parts of the 
type. The most important species were highland live oak, poison- 
oak, scrub oak, hpllyleaf cherry, sumac, ceanothus, and manzanita. 
At varying elevations the shrub species gradually merged with open 
oak woodlands. 

The woodland portions of the type supported a good growth of 
valuable forage grasses and weeds. There was no available grass or 
herbaceous forage beneath the dense canopy of the brush portions of 
this type, and the brush itself was of low palatability. The chapar- 
ral, however, had enormous value for watershed protection, since its 
dense cover prevented soil washing and thus played a prominent 
part in preserving lower, more valuable grasslands. 



Valuable forage occurred in the 131 million acres of open forests 
that grew on the slopes of practically every mountain range from 
the eastern foothills of the Rockies to the slopes of the Cascades and 
the Sierras. In these forests the trees were fairly wide-spaced, and 
a grassy floor beneath the trees added to a parklike appearance. 
Numerous clear mountain streams and the easy accessibility of the 
grass cover contributed to making these areas an extremely valuable 
part of the forage resource. 

The most extensive areas of grazing land in the open-forest type 
were found under the ponderosa pine forests which occurred in large 
bodies throughout the West. In many localities the prevailing open- 
forest type was a pure stand of ponderosa pine; elsewhere it was a 
mixed stand of ponderosa pine, sugar pine, and incense cedar or a 
mixture of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. At high elevations in 
the Rocky Mountains there were parks and meadows in openings 
between stands of Engelmann spruce and alpine fir. Here and there 
were areas of low-growing oaks, maples, and other mountain brush. 
In Colorado and adjacent Southwestern States the type included 
tracts of aspen and Douglas fir. Throughout the type were moun- 
tain meadows of luxuriant grass and palatable weeds. 

Almost everywhere in the open forests was abundant forage com- 
posed of many different species of shrubs, grasses, and weeds. As 
might be expected, the forage species varied considerably throughout 
this very large region, depending on climate, soil, and to some extent 
on the kind of overtopping forest cover. For the type as a whole, 
however, the many valuable forage plants included blue grama, 
bluestem, various fescues, "beardless bunchgrass", wheatgrass, pine- 
grass, junegrass, bluegrasses, redtop, alpine timothy, needlegrasses, 
ricegrasses, and elk sedge; wild geranium, bluebells, yarrow, suc- 
culent vetches, and other nourishing weeds and palatable browse such 
as snowberry, bitterbrush, and mountain-mahogany. 

These open forests and mountain meadows had a high value for 
forage. As a rule, this type occurred at rather high elevations, and 
its forage matured later than that of the lower ranges. For this 
reason the open-forest ranges later were to become an extremely 
important link in the grazing cycle for domestic livestock providing 
the all-important summer pastures and, in combination with the 
lower ranges, making possible yearlong grazing. 


Not all of the forests of the West were suitable for grazing. 
Certain forest types were so dense that little herbaceous or shrubby 
vegetation was able to live in the deep shade, or if herbage did de- 
velop it was of low forage value. Included in the dense forest types 
were the western white pine-western larch forests of northern 
Idaho, thickets of lodgepole pine throughout the Rocky Mountains, 
redwood stands along the northern California coast, the fog-drenched 
Sitka spruce-western hemlock and Douglas fir forests of western 
Oregon and Washington, and parts of the Engelmann spruce-alpine 
fir forests of the high Cascade Range and the Rocky Mountains. 
Here and there in these dense forests were open, grassy meadows. 


In the aggregate, these dense forests covered a very large area and 
comprised about 68 million acres. Occasional fires, started by light- 
ning or by Indians, removed the forest cover temporarily, and for a 
few years deer and other wild animals found considerable feed in the 
burned areas, on which generally developed a good cover of such 
palatable plants as peavine and fireweed, until new forest growth 
shaded out these succulent plants. 


In the days of the "Forty-niners" there were few settlements in 
all that vast territory lying between the Mississippi River and the 
Pacific Coast. True, the Spaniards had a few herds of cattle and 
sheep in the Southwest as early as 1598, and the Mormons in 1847 
established a small colony on the shores of a great salt lake near the 
western foothills of the Rocky Mountains ; there were a few military 
posts scattered here and there, and at various strategic points were 
isolated trading establishments of the great fur companies; and, of 
course, a few small, struggling communities had taken root in the 
fertile valleys adjacent to the Pacific Ocean. 

Except for these rudimentary beginnings of settlement, the whole 
of the far-flung expanse of prairie, plain, desert, and mountain high- 
land was virgin territory. It was virgin country in 1540 when the 
Spanish captain, Coronado, led the Conquistadores up from Mexico 
through what is now Texas and on northward over the lush grass of 
the never-ending plains. It was the free and unchallenged home of 
the buffalo and antelope in 1805 when Lewis and Clark made their 
intrepid march to the mouth of the Columbia. And it was still 
virgin territory in 1835 when Colonel Dodge and his party of Gov- 
ernment explorers spent the entire summer following the Platte 
Eiver toward its source, traveling across the Great Plains, along the 
frontal wall of the Rockies, and returning eastward by way of the 
Arkansas River. As late as 1858, buffalo roamed over the land where 
Denver now stands. Those who set forth three-quarters of a century 
ago to cross this vast, uncharted, little-known wilderness saw the 
land as Coronado saw it three centuries before. They saw a virgin 
range, an enormous, untapped natural resource. 

This virgin range exhibited a wide variation in plant cover, but 
everywhere except in the desert areas, there was an abundance of 
palatable and nutritious plants suitable for the pasturage of wild 
game and, later, for domestic livestock. Before white settlement the 
range was used only by wild game. Although these animals were 
present in very large numbers, occasionally overgrazing local areas 
and variations in forage production were caused by droughts, some 
of which undoubtedly were as severe as those experienced in recent 
years, the range by and large was able to maintain itself. It would 
have continued to do so if the white man had not upset its natural 
and fairly stable equilibrium. 

The magnificent opportunities for prudent utilization of this great 
natural resource could not have been fully appreciated by those who 
settled the range ; for the story of the range is in part one of high 
hope and lofty ideals, and in part one of indifference to the welfare 
of the generations to follow. It is a story of the prodigal exploita- 
tion of a vast natural resource on an enormous scale. 


By RICHABD E. MoARDLE, Director, and DAVID F. COSTELLO, Assistant Conserva- 
tionist, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station ; E. E. BIBK- 
MAIER, Range Examiner, and CARL EWING, Forest Supervisor, North Pacific 
Region; B. A. HENDRICKS, Associate Range Examiner, Southwestern Forest 
and Range Experiment Station, C. A. KTJTZLEB, Staff Technician, Rocky Moun- 
tain Region; ALVA A. SIMPSON, Associate Director, Plains Shelterbelt, and 
ARNOLD R. STANDING, Range Examiner, Intermountain Region 

If the "Forty-niner" could but repeat his westward journey today, 
how different the range would appear! Where less than a century 
ago he spent weary weeks guiding his ox team over rolling prairies, 
wind-swept plains, and rugged mountains; where were but wagon 

National Forests 

Indian Lands 

Public Domain & 
Grazing Dist's 

Other Federal__ 
State and County 







1 %ZZ!Z%ZffiZ%^%& 




3 10 20 30 40 50 


Of the immense area of "free range", more than half has passed into private ownership. 
National forests, Indian lands, and public domain divide up about 36 percent in the 
ratio, roughly, of 2^-1-3. 

tracks and isolated Indian villages in the days of the gold rush, he 
now would find a network of roads, farmsteads, cities, and towns. 
Enormous areas throughout this western country would still have 
somewhat the appearance of the "endless grasslands" that he knew; 
but beneath the appearance is a change that might elude the "Forty- 
niner" the great depletion in quality and quantity of the forage 
resources that has taken place in the last 50 or 60 years. 

Widespread, continuous, and exhaustive use of the forage has 
changed the whole character of the virgin range. The outstanding 
changes have been (1) the passage of much of the land from Federal 
ownership to other forms of control, (2) a reduction in the area 
available for range use, (3) a tremendous decrease in the quantity 
and quality of the forage, and (4) deterioration of the basic resource, 
the soil itself. 

6494636 7 




The ownership pattern of the virgin range has changed from virtu- 
ally complete Federal ownership to a bewildering mosaic of inter- 
mingled State, county, municipal, private, Federal, and other owner- 
ships. Even the land in Federal ownership or control is under vari- 
ous jurisdictions, such as the national parks and monuments, national 
forests, Indian lands, grazing districts, and unreserved public domain. 
Table 5 indicates for the present range area of 728,000,000 acres the 
approximate acreage in each of the several classes of ownership. 
The proportional area in each ownership is illustrated in figure 23. 

TABLE 5. Distribution of virgin and present range areas by ownership or control 

and plant types 



area of virgin 

range 1 

Present area, all 

Federal ownership or control 

National forests Indian lands Public domain 

Tall grass 

Short grass 

Pacific bunchgrass. 

Semidesert grass. ._ 


Southern desert 

Salt-desert shrub.. 



Open forests 

1,000 acres 

25, 000 

130, 550 

All types 

847, 550 








1,000 acres 
18, 513 
98, 092 
42, 534 
89, 274 
96, 528 

40, 858 
75, 728 

13, 406 
126, 367 


728, 196 







1,000 acres 





87, 954 






1,000 acres 

11, 627 

12, 353 



10, 352 



48, 391 





1,000 acres 

9,- 759 



43, 237 

30, 657 
22, 302 


127, 792 






Federal ownership or control 

Other Federal 

All Federal 

State and county 


Tall grass 

Short grass 

Pacific bunchgrass.. 


Southern desert 

Salt-desert shrub . 


Woodland - chapar- 

Open forests 

1,000 acres 








All types 

22, 997 





1,000 acres 
25, 545 
55, 179 

10, 461 
34, 680 



287, 134 




1,000 acres 








65, 516 






1,000 acres 
17, 271 
148, 144 
48, 425 
34, 791 




43, 568 


375, 546 





* Exclusive of area east of boundary line shown in fig. 1. In addition to area shown here, the tall 
grass type is estimated to have covered 210,000,000 acres east of the boundary line shown in fig. 1. 

Including grazing districts. 

Exclusive of 1,217,000 acres of grazable land in national parks and monuments, only 40,000 acres of which 
are actually grazed. 

Changes in area have occurred in nearly every major plant type. 
Some have become larger. The sagebrush-grass range, for instance, 
has expanded at the expense of adjacent types from about 90 million 
to more than 96 million acres, and in California the woodland- 
chaparral vegetation covers 3.4 million acres more than at the time 
of white settlement. Some of the range types are considerably 
smaller, as, for example, the tall-grass prairie, much of which is now 
devoted to agricultural crops. The Pacific bunchgrass range also 



has become considerably smaller, because a large part has been used 
for wheat production, orchards, and other agricultural crops, and 
because of the inroads made by encroaching sagebrush. The pro- 
portional distribution of the present range area in the different 
plant types is shown in figure 24. 

In every part of the western range, lands have been taken for 
cities, roads, and for other needs of settlement. All told, as detailed 
in table 5, the total area of open range land is about 119 million 
acres less today than a century ago. 6 

Tall Grass 

Short Grass 
Pacific Bunchgrass 
Semidesert Grass. 


Southern Desert 

Y/////////////// ///////////////////^^ 






Salt- Desert Shrub. 



Open Forest _ _ 




T ^y/y////////A 




) 10 20 30 



One-fourth and more of the present range area is in the very valuable short-grass type. 
The first four principal grass types (shown in fig. 25) account for nearly a half of 
the total area. 

By far the most significant departure from virgin range condi- 
tions is the change in the plant cover. Although varying in density 
under different forms of management, the plant cover in every range 
type is depleted to an alarming degree. Many valuable forage 
species have disappeared entirely. Palatable plants are being 
replaced by unpalatable ones. Worthless and obnoxious weeds from 
foreign countries are invading every type. And throughout the 
entire western range the vegetation has been thinned out until even 

About 2 million acres of former range have been used for cities, highways, and other 
needs of settlement ; about 116 million acres for farm crops ; and 1 million acres of 
grazable lands are included in national parks and monuments. Also not included are 
about 68 million acres of dense forests and 59 million acres of deserts and inaccessible 
areas which never have been usable as range. 


conservative estimates place the forage value at less than half of 
what it was a century ago. This loss in forage values from virgin 
range conditions is referred to as "range depletion." 

Accompanying the loss in plant cover has come about an inevita- 
ble soil deterioration. Depletion of the plant cover meant the loss 
of a shielding cover of herbage to break the force of rains and ease 
the water gently into the soil ; of a litter cover of dead and decaying 
leaves to filter the running water and thus prevent clogging the soil 
pores with silt ; of a generous admixture of humus to aid in catching 
and absorbing the waters rushing over steep hillsides; of a mass 
of fibrous plant roots to keep the soil loose and friable and capable 
of holding a large quantity of water ; as all these were lost, the hold- 
ing power of the good soil was gone and it became an easy prey to 
soil erosion. It was and is a self-continuing destruction, for, as 
more and more of the fertile topsoil is washed away, it becomes 
increasingly difficult for plants to reestablish a protective cover, and 
floods from severely denuded parts of a range frequently ruin nearby 
areas which lie in the path of mudflows. 


A brief description of present conditions of vegetation in the prin- 
cipal range types will emphasize not only how different the present 
range is from the virgin range but how greatly every range type has 
suffered, and is continuing to suffer, from forage depletion. No 
attempt has been made to develop a complete picture for each type 
but only to select from the large amount of information available in 
Forest Service and other records a sufficient number of examples to 
depict general conditions as they exist today. 7 These short accounts 
deal entirely with vegetative conditions of the range. The causes of 
forage depletion and the remedies are discussed in later chapters. 

Throughout these accounts it will be noted that forage depletion 
may (and generally does) mean that the plant cover is thinner; de- 
pletion also is indicated by the replacement of palatable and nutri- 
tious plants by unpalatable or less nutritious plants. Even in its 
virgin condition there were minor changes in the character of the 
plant cover, which was thicker one season than another; having now 
more plants of a certain species, now fewer. But in general there 
was a biological balance, a natural equilibrium, which year in and 

7 These are for the most part taken from unpublished data of the Forest Service. 
For many years the Forest Service has collected data on range conditions but to obtain 
more information on the present range, especially for areas outside the national forests, 
an extensive survey of the entire western range was started in 1932 and completed in 
the fall of 1935. The tables presented here are based upon the observations of more 
than 100 Forest Service officials, skilled in judging range conditions and familiar with 
the country examined. As a basis for judging range conditions these men had the 
results obtained through periodic reexaminations over many years of 6,300 permanently 
marked sample plots. In addition, forage conditions on more than 14,000 sample plots 
were estimated during the 4 years the survey was in progress. 

Knowledge of original forage conditions was obtained by examination of remnants 
of the virgin range and of "protected" areas such as ungrazed fence corners, cemeteries, 
and railroad rights-of-way where the present vegetation is at least indicative of virgin 
range conditions. The forage values of present ranges were estimated in terms of those 
of the virgin range, and present range lands were grouped into four broad classes : 0-25, 
26^50. 51-75, and 76-100 percent decline from original forage values. A map (fig. 38, 
p. 110) was prepared, outlining in a general way these four broad classes of forage 
depletion. Comparison of this map with those showing distribution of range types 
(figs. 25, 30, and 34) and with estimates of land ownership was the basis for preparation 
of the forage depletion tables presented in this chapter. 

The plant types described are generalized, each inevitably including small areas of 
other types. The principal subtypes are detailed in the appendix, p. 600. A similar 
generalization is unavoidable in delimiting the depletion classes. 



year out maintained the distinctive character of the plant type, only 
occasionally upset by certain natural phenomena such as drought, fire, 
and localized overgrazing by big game animals. 

When the white man came, his disturbance of this balance was of a 
more far-reaching nature. He allowed too many of his grazing ani- 


FIGURE 25. The principal grass types within the boundary of the present range, among 
which the short-grass type takes first place in area and grazing valute 1 .. 

mals to use the range, with the result that thinning of the plant cover 
and packing of the soil induced soil erosion and made natural re- 
generation more difficult for the remaining plants. Early grazing 
prevented the development of adequate seed crops. These and other 
factors entirely changed the site conditions and brought about large 
changes in the character of the vegetation. As a rule, it was the 


poorer plants which were able to survive on the deteriorated sites, and 
eventually they gained possession of the areas. In some instances, 
these were the plants best able to endure the deteriorated site condi- 
tions ; in others, the plants that domestic livestock would not eat obvi- 
ously were left to reseed the area while plants relished by livestock 
were consumed before seed could be produced. Thus the deteriora- 
tion of the site has brought about a more or less complete change in 
the character of the plant cover. This in turn has wrought a change 
in the grazing capacity, which, as here expressed in animal units, is 
the number of acres required to support one unit of domestic live- 
stock (i. e., one cow, horse, or mule; or five sheep, goats, or swine) 
for 1 month without endangering the continued forage productivity 
of the range land. 


No other range type has so decreased in size as has the tall grass 
(fig. 25). The tall-grass prairies originally extended as far east as 
Indiana and covered about 252 million acres. Today farm lands 
largely replace the tall grass of the Middle West and much of the 
42 million acres considered in this report. 8 Only 18.5 million acres 
remain in range use, for here, too, the soil was fertile and the climate 
favorable to crop production. As can be seen in figure 25, the bulk 
of the tall-grass range is now in four widely separated places North 
Dakota, Nebraska, southern Kansas and Oklahoma, and the Texas 
coastal plain ; and approximately 93 percent of it is privately owned 
(table 5). It has less forage depletion than any other part of the 
western range, and despite its greatly reduced acreage the tall-grass 
type is an important part of the forage resource because of the large 
numbers of livestock it can support on relatively small areas. 

About three-fourths of the present tall-grass range is in good 
condition; the rest has experienced appreciable changes in the make- 
up of its plant cover (table 6). Relatively unchanged are the 
sand hills and native hay meadows of northwestern Nebraska. Here 
in a compact body of range land covering about 12 million acres, 
the plant cover has essentially the same species as when plant collec- 
tions were made in 1839-58 (131). In North Dakota, Kansas, and 
Oklahoma, sagebrush, yucca, shinnery oaks, and other more or less 
unpalatable weeds and shrubs have usurped the place of the nutri- 
tious tall grasses. For example, examinations of the sand hills south 
of Garden City, Kans., in 1902 and 1904 showed that prairie beard- 
grass and prairie sandgrass were present in large quantities but 
sagebrush and yucca were scarce. In 1935 sand sagebrush and 
yucca were the dominant species, whereas it was now prairie beard- 
grass and blue grama that were scarce a complete reversal of types 
in 30 years. 

8 As already stated in the previous chapter, the 210 million acres of tall grass east of 
the boundary line in fig. 25 are not considered as within the present range area. 



TABLE 6. Depletion of virgin range in the tall-grass type, ~by ownership and 

depletion classes 

Ownership or control 

(0-25 percent) 

(26-50 percent) 

(51-75 percent) 

(76-100 per- 

All depletion 

National forests 




























Indian lands 

Public domain grazing 

Other Federal l 

All Federal 1 

12, 377 





State and county 


All ownerships 

13, 589 



18, 513 

1 Exclusive of 1,217,000 acres of grazable land in national parks and monuments, only 40,000 of which is 
actually grazed. 

Included in the 73 percent of the type in reasonably good condi- 
tion are the sand hills of Nebraska and the small area in the Texas 
Coastal Plain shown in figure 25. That so much of the type as a 
whole is in this condition today is undoubtedly the result of abundant 
rainfall coupled with the deep-rooting habit of the tall grasses and 
their remarkable recuperative powers. Abuse which in other range 
types would have quickly brought destruction has harmed the tall 
grass only slightly. Material forage depletion occurs in North Da- 
kota and on part of the type in Kansas, but most of the tall-grass 
range in Kansas and Oklahoma, about 4 percent of the total area in 
tall-grass range, has lost nearly all of its former forage value. 




0.5 1.0 1.5 2.0 2.5 

Acres Required per Cow (5 Sheep) per Month 

FIGURE 26. Estimated grazing capacity on present tall-grass range requires nearly one- 
fifth greater area per cow (or 5 sheep) than on the virgin range. 

Grazing capacity, estimated for both the virgin and the present 
range, as described on page 509, is shown in figure 26. In this re- 
spect, as in others, the tall-grass type has the advantage of most of 
the types which follow. 

Although most of the tall-grass type is in reasonably good condi- 
tion today, the present trend in forage values is thought to be down- 
ward on about 90 percent of the entire tall-grass range (table 25, 
p. 116). Unquestionably, the drought of the past few years has had 
a part in this decline, but drought alone has caused only about one- 
third^of the total loss in forage grasses in this type. Overgrazing, 
especially during the recent drought period, is the factor chiefly 


responsible. Since practically all of the tall-grass type is in private 
ownership, the responsibility for checking this downward trend of 
forage values and rebuilding the plant cover rests with the farmers 
and livestock operators using this range. On portions of the 
Nebraska National Forest the grazing capacity under controlled use 
has been increased 55 percent in the last 23 years, indicating the 
progress possible under systematic range management. 


The short grass is the largest of the range types, covering 198 
million acres (fig. 25). Of this, three-fourths is privately owned 
(table 5) ; although millions of acres plowed for agricultural crops 
are now reverting to public ownership for nonpayment of taxes. 
With many interspersed areas under various forms of Federal and 
State control, the short-grass type has become an enormous patch- 
work of farms, pasture lands, and open range upon which an increas- 
ingly complex pattern of ownership is being superimposed. 

The short grasses are hardy, and this type is much less susceptible 
to damage through overuse than are other grass types. The forage 
value of the present short-grass range, however, is considerably less 
than that of the virgin range because of changes in the plant cover. 
The replacement of palatable species by inferior plants has con- 
tributed to this decline, but the major factor in range depletion has 
been the marked thinning of the plant cover. 

V rg i n 




1.5 . 

Acres Required per Cow (5 Sheep) perMonih 


FIGURE 27. Grazing capacity of the short-grass type at present requires nearly twice 
the range area estimated for virgin-range conditions. 

A large proportion of the short grasses in the original plant cover 
of these plains has been replaced by weeds and shrubs of low palata- 
bility, such as sand sagebrush, Russian-thistle, sunflower, asters, 
pigweed, goldenrod, and peppergrass. In western Kansas, eastern 
Colorado, and southward, the worthless snakeweed, gumweed, and 
cactus now dominate many areas. Where mixed prairies once ex- 
isted along the Arkansas River, the grasses have almost completely 
disappeared and sand sagebrush, R-ussian-thistle, and yucca now con- 
stitute 60 percent of the total plant cover. On the high plains of 
western Texas, weeds like Russian-thistle and broomweed comprise 
from 20 to 40 percent of a plant cover in which grasses once were 

85 percent dominant. In eastern Colorado, grasses once comprised 

86 percent of the plant cover but now constitute only 56 percent of 
the vegetation, whereas weeds have increased from 14 to 34 percent. 



Accompanying this decrease in forage quality is the even more 
serious decrease in volume of forage through thinning of the entire 
plant cover. The vegetation in general is only half as thick as it 
was when the white man first began to use the range for pasturage. 
The recent drought is responsible for a certain amount of the thin- 
ning. It is worth noting, however, that small remnants of the short- 
grass range protected from grazing have nearly 10 times as thick a 
plant cover as adjacent areas exposed to the same drought conditions 
but long overgrazed by livestock. 

As a result of this loss in quality and decrease in volume of vege- 
tation, the forage value of the short-grass range is much less than 
that of the virgin range, and that this condition is widespread is 
indicated by the following figures from an extensive survey made in 

Decline from original forage value: Percent 

Southwestern North Dakota -------------------------------------- 25-50 

Northwestern and western South Dakota _________________________ 37-43 

Northeastern Colorado, western Nebraska and southeastern 
Wyoming ______________________________________________________ 50-60 

Southwest Nebraska and northwestern Kansas ____________________ 50-75 

Western Texas ___________________________________________________ 50-70 

Forage in southeastern Colorado, the "dust-bowl" area, has lost 
88 percent of its former value. The forage of about 13 percent of 
the entire short-grass area has been extremely depleted, more than 
three-fourths materially or severely depleted, and only about 8 per- 
cent can be classed as being in reasonably good condition (table 7). 
It is significant, as shown in table 7, that of the severely and ex- 
tremely depleted short-grass range more than 80 percent is privately 
owned. One of the best indications of what has happened is the con- 
trast afforded by figure 27 between grazing capacity of the short- 
grass type now and a century ago. 

TABLE 7. Depletion of virgin range in the short-grass type 

depletion classes 

ownership and 

Ownership or control 

(0-25 percent) 

(26-50 percent) 

(51-75 percent) 

(76-100 per- 

All depletion 

National forests 





















11, 627 




Indian lands 

Public domain grazing 

Other Federal 

All Federal 

11, 766 


14, 815 
16, 514 
70, 361 


41, 350 


24, 667 



25, 545 
24, 403 
148, 144 


State and county 


All ownerships 

16, 047 


101, 690 


54, 424 


25, 931 


198, 092 


Less than 0.5 percent. 

The best available information indicates that for the past quarter 
century about 95 percent of the whole short-'grass range has steadily 
declined in forage value (table 24, p. 115). Nor is it likely that the 
present poor condition of this range marks the end of its down- 


ward trend, unless more care is given the range than in the past; 
for depletion has been halted on only 4 percent of the type during 
the past 5 years and approximately 94 percent of the short-grass 
area is thought to be still on the downgrade (table 25, p. 116) . The 
short-grass type, however, has remarkable recuperative powers. 
With favorable weather conditions and adequate care, it recovers 


The Pacific bunchgrass is the most valuable grass type west of 
the Great Plains (fig. 25). Since settlement, however, it has lost 
much of its original importance because the total area of the type 
is smaller, and also because of a tremendous decline in the forage 
value of the remaining bunchgrass range. 

Bunchgrass originally covered about 61,000,000 acres, but very 
large areas in eastern Washington and north-central Oregon have 
been turned to wheat production and in California much of the 
land which originally supported bunchgrass is now devoted to 
orchards and other agricultural crops. The invasion of sagebrush 
has still further decreased the area of the bunchgrass type, which is 
now estimated to be only 42.5 million acres. About 84 percent of 
the bunchgrass range is privately owned and most of the rest is in 
Federal ownership, chiefly as unreserved public domain and national 

Many of the valuable plants of this type have almost entirety 
disappeared, notably the immensely valuable bluebunch wheatgrass 
on large areas in eastern Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Cali- 
fornia. Other native bunchgrasses have been largely replaced by 
bur-clover, "filaree", slender oat, and other plants of foreign origin. 
Occasionally these introduced plants have considerable forage value 
but they seldom compensate for the disappearance of the native 
vegetation. Many of the plant immigrants are worthless as feed 
for livestock, some are poisonous, and others are mechanically in- 
jurious, especially to lambs. Downy chess, locally called "cheat- 
grass", an inferior forage plant that came to this country from 
abroad, is of but moderate forage value for only a few weeks dur- 
ing the year but is now dominating large areas formerly occupied 
by bunchgrass. Even casual observers note the astonishingly wide 
distribution of Russian-thistle on the bunchgrass range. 

The marked decline in forage value of the bunchgrass range can 
be traced in part to a general thinning of the plant cover, but 
chiefly to a distinct change in the character of the vegetation. Sam- 
ple plots located on representative areas in Idaho, Oregon, and 
Washington, indicate that the outstanding feature of the change 
in character of the plant cover is the shift from perennial grasses 
to annual grasses. As shown in table 8, perennial grasses consti- 
tuted approximately three-fourths of the original plant cover but 
form only a small portion of the present cover. Annual grasses, 
which were only 12 percent originally, now comprise 51 percent of 
the vegetation. The significance of this replacement of valuable 
perennial grasses by annual grasses of low palatability is at least 
partly reflected in the great reduction in grazing capacity of this 
type as shown in figure 28. 



TABLE 8. Approximate composition of the plant cover on the lunch grass range 
in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon 






Perennial grasses 


Annual grasses 


Shrubs -. 




The fact that the plant cover of much of the present range is 
only about 60 percent as thick as that of the virgin range further 
explains this very considerable reduction in forage value of the 
bunchgrass range of today. Some parts of the present bunchgrass 
range are estimated to be only 30 percent as valuable for feed as 
under virgin conditions. For the type as a whole, as indicated by 
table 9, less than a tenth is only moderately depleted, whereas 55 
percent is severely depleted, or worse. 





01 2345 

Acres Required per Cow (5 Sheep) per Month 

FIGURE 28. More than twice the area per cow is required today on Pacific bunchgrass 
ranges that sufficed under normal conditions. 

Even more alarming than the indication that nearly all the forage 
is gone on more than half of the bunchgrass range is the generally 
recognized fact that forage depletion is still continuing in this type. 
Recent estimates suggest that on less than one-fifth of the bunch- 
grass range has forage depletion been halted or the range improved 
(tables 24 and 25, pp. 115 and 116) ; and still further deterioration 
may be expected on the remainder. 

TABLE 9. Depletion of virgin range in the Pacific-l)unchgrass type ly ownership 

and depletion classes 

Ownership or control 

(0-25 percent) 

(26-50 percent) 

(51-75 percent) 

(76-100 per- 

All depletion 

National forests 





















Indian lands 

Public domain grazing 

Other Federal 





13, 521 


17, 852 







Private " 

All ownerships _ 



15, 592 










The chief range of the Southwest is that characterized by the nu- 
tritious grasses of the semidesert-grass type (fig. 25), which retain 
their palatability during the mild winters of this region. In Ari- 
zona this type is much used for winter sheep grazing; for yearling 
cattle grazing in Arizona and New Mexico; and for cattle, sheep, 
and goats in the Trans-Pecos region of Texas. More than half of 
its 89 million acres is in private ownership. 

Most of the semidesert-grass type shows a marked loss in forage 
value from that of the virgin range. Three important plants 
alkali sacaton, sacaton, and bush muhly ("hoe grass") have al- 
most entirely disappeared from the type. Gully and arroyo ero- 
sion has carved the soil from valleys that once supported magnificent 
stands of the sacaton grasses (63). Hoe grass, which now is seldom 
found except on areas inaccessible to livestock or as an occasional 
tuft under the protection of cacti and thorny shrubs, was so abun- 
dant in 1879 and 1880 that hundreds of tons were delivered as hay 
to Government military posts in Arizona (12). 

As the gramas and other valuable forage grasses disappear, the 
range is being restocked with inferior grasses and weeds. A spe- 
cific illustration of this shift in composition of the plant cover, based 
on studies on the Rio Grande watershed in New Mexico, is given in 
table 10. 9 It will be noted that on conservatively grazed areas, 
which to some extent indicate virgin range conditions, the palatable 
forage grasses comprise nearly the whole plant cover, whereas on the 
heavily grazed lands characteristic of much of the present range only 
half of the cover consists of these valuable forage grasses. Dominat- 
ing many areas formerly occupied by valuable forage grasses are 
such poor grasses and worthless weeds as burrograss, ring muhly, 
fluffgrass, three-awn ("poverty grass"), snakeweed, Russian-thistle, 
and jimmyweed ("burroweed"). Cholla cactus has invaded many 
square miles in central Arizona and on former grasslands creosote- 
bush is encroaching. Drymaria, a deadly poisonous species, has 
increased on overgrazed clay flats in New Mexico, and in southwest 
Texas, bitter rubberweed, which also is poisonous, has appeared in 
many places (30, 84) . In New Mexico, as the valuable black grama 
disappears the range gradually becomes more and more an essen- 
tially worthless mesquite-sand-dune shrub type (29). 

TABLE 10. Approximate composition of herbaceous cover on a semidesert-grass 

range in New Mexico 




Good grasses (black gram 
Poor grasses (ring muhly, 
Weeds and shrubs 

n, hliifl grama, sido-oats grama) 



dropseed, three-awn). ." '. 




9 Cooperrider, C. K., and Hendricks, B. A. Soil Erosion and Streamflow in Relation 
to Land Resources and Human Welware on the Upper Rio Grande Watershed. U. S. 
Dept. Agr. Tech. Bull. (In process of publication.) 



A valuable forage plant which has come into the semidesert type 
is alfileria, or "filaree." This plant appeared in the 1870's (143) 
and is excellent feed in wet years, but since in this type it occurs 
in abundance only in southern Arizona and produces a good crop 
of feed only in occasional years, it does not fully compensate for 
the loss of perennial grasses which it is replacing. 

In addition to the loss of valuable forage plants, the plant cover 
of the present semidesert-grass range is thinner. For example, on 
the upper Rio Grande watershed in New Mexico it is estimated to 
be only about 40 percent as thick as that of the virgin range. Other 
studies on representative areas in the Trans-Pecos region of western 
Texas also indicate that the plant cover on many present ranges is 
scarcely 40 percent as thick as that on ungrazed areas in the same 

As a result of this marked thinning of the plant cover and the 
widespread loss of valuable forage plants, the value of the semi- 
desert range for feed has diminished greatly. Fully two-thirds of 

Vi rgm 




I 234567 

Acres Required per Cow (5 Sheep) perMorvth 

FIGURE 29. Because of the serious loss in grazing capacity in the semidesert-grass 
type, nearly 6^ acres is required per cow where 3 acres once furnished ample feed. 

the semidesert range has less than half the forage value it once 
possessed (table 11) and, as a whole, this range is one of the most 
severely depleted range types of the entire West, as indicated by 
the grazing-capacity comparison in figure 29. 

TABLE 11. Depletion of virgin range in the semidesert-grass type t>y ownership 

and depletion classes 





Ownership or control 

(0 to 25 per- 

(26 to 50 per- 

(51 to 75 per- 

(76 to 100 per- 

All depletion 


























National forests 











Indian lands 





11, 197 






Public domain grazing 











Other Federal 











All Federal 



3 841 


17 862 






State and county 









16, 440 





14 621 


30, 447 




48, 425 


All ownerships . . . 





57, 363 




89, 274 


Aside from loss in forage values, the deterioration of the plant 
cover has permitted the occurrence of destructive floods. Investiga- 


tions in Arizona disclosed that thinning of the plant cover increased 
run-off of summer rains and greatly accelerated the rate of soil loss. 
One of a pair of lysimeter study plots, for example, had 51 percent 
less grass cover than the other and on this plot the run-off of sum- 
mer rainfall was 46 percent greater and the rate of soil loss almost 
500 percent greater than on the adjoining plot with the thicker plant 

The trend of range depletion is estimated to be downward on 
about 90 percent of the semidesert-grass type (table 24, p. 115). The 
most serious situation at present is on areas of long-established use 
as in the Pecos, Rio Grande, Gila, and Santa Cruz Valleys where 
prompt action must be taken to save these ranges. Although this 
type is very susceptible to damage by overgrazing, and climatic con- 
ditions make recovery slow and difficult, experience on the Tonto 
National Forest hi central Arizona proves that if forage depletion 
and soil erosion are not too far advanced, depleted ranges can be 
restored. On this forest, certain semidesert-grass ranges deterio- 
rated by year-long overstocking of cattle have been improved about 
35 percent since 1927 by protecting the grasses during the growing 
season and through conservative winter grazing. 


Third largest of all the range types and more than twice as large 
as any other shrub type, the sagebrush-grass is an important part of 
the forage resource and in many localities is the only range available 
(fig. 30). With the exception of the true grass areas, the sage- 
brush-grass ranges are potentially the most productive of any of the 
range vegetation types. The northern portions are much used for 
spring-fall range, and, because stockmen are dependent upon it for 
feed in those seasons, it forms an indispensable link between the 
winter and summer ranges. 

The 96.5 million acres now in this type include an increase of about 
6.5 million acres beyond the area occupied under virgin conditions. 
This increase in area has been at the expense of bunchgrass in the 
Pacific Northwest and short grass in Wyoming. Locally many grass 
meadows also have been invaded by sagebrush. Thousands of acres 
of sagebrush lands have been turned to crop agricultural purposes, 
especially where irrigation was possible, but the greater portion of the 
type still remains open range. Nearly half of the total area used as 
range is open public domain, and over a third is privately owned. 

Ill its original condition the sagebrush range consisted of a rather 
sparse cover of sagebrush beneath which was a rich stand of palatable 
perennial grasses and weeds. Today the sagebrush has thickened 
greatly and in parts of Oregon, for example, has increased more than 
60 percent. The palatable perennial grasses and weeds, however, have 
almost entirely disappeared. Perennial grasses on the Snake River 
Plains of Idaho are only one-fourth, and on representative areas in 
Oregon but half as thick as on remnants of the virgin range. The 
grass cover on sagebrush lands in central Nevada is only 10 percent, 
in northern Nevada 24 percent, and in western Utah 36 percent as 
thick as formerly. Over a large part of the type practically the only 
feed left for livestock is the very inferior sagebrush itself. 




MILES 200 



L of the southern desert-shrub type in the contiguous portions of California 
Arizona is omitted, since these areas are virtually ungrazahle. 

It is this tremendous loss of forage grasses and weeds that has 
brought about the present low grazing capacity indicated in figure Sl- 
it is estimated that grazing capacity in different parts of the type is 
60 to 90 percent less than it was in pioneer days, as shown below : 

Decline from virgin forage value : Percent 

Southern Idaho 68 

Eastern Oregon 65 

Colorado and Wyoming 60-70 

Western Colorado (badly depleted public domain) 90 

Northern Nevada 71 

Western Utah__ 69 



For the type as a whole it is estimated that the forage on about 84 
percent of the sagebrush-grass range has been severely or extremely 
depleted and has been at least materially depleted on nearly all the 
rest (table 12). 

TABLE 12. Depletion of virgin range in the sagebrusfi-grass type by ownership 

and depletion classes 

Ownership or control 

(0-25 percent) 

(26-50 percent) 

(51-75 percent) 

(76-100 per- 

All depletion 

National forests 















22, 959 






17, 537 











Indian lands. . 

Public domain grazing 

Other Federal 

All Federal . 



16, 076 

15, 737 

55, 179 
34, 791 

State and county 


All ownerships 


13, 496 


35, 565 


1 Less than 0.5 percent. 

Acres Required per Cow (5 Sheep) per Month 

FIGURE 31. Grazing capacity in the sagebrush-grass type has fallen so low that more than 
three times the acreage per cow is needed today that was required a century ago. 

The virtual wrecking of this valuable resource can be traced 
directly to the apparent indifference of those controlling the use of 
the land. As shown in table 12, 93 percent of the public domain and 
91 percent of the private areas of sagebrush exhibit severe or extreme 
forage depletion. And 81 percent of the entire sagebrush type is 
in these two ownerships. 

Although the forage of this type already is greatly depleted, still 
further deterioration can be expected, for estimates based on detailed 
studies over a large part of the sagebrush-grass range indicate that 
on about 90 percent forage depletion is continuing (tables 24 and 
25, pp. 115 and 116) . Only immediate and drastic changes in existing 
policies for handling grazing on these ranges will prevent destruc- 
tion of the remaining forage. 


The southern desert-shrub type (fig. 30) has been of less impor- 
tance than other types in the development of the range industry. 



Scant rainfall and extremely high temperatures have made most of 
the type a desert with practically no dependable feed for livestock. 
Only about 27 million of the 51 million acres in this type is usable 
range and most of this can be used for but a few weeks in favorable 
years. The practice is to use the range whenever feed and stock 
water are available, thereby reserving adjoining ranges or saving 
the expense of hay, cottonseed cake, and other supplemental feed. 
To this extent, the southern desert-shrub type is of some local 

More than half of the type is still in public ownership, chiefly 
as unreserved public domain. The private land is concentrated in 
irrigation projects such as the lower Rio Grande development in 
New Mexico, and the Salt River Valley project of central Arizona. 
Many attempts have been made to raise livestock in the southern 
desert-shrub type, but without irrigation these have often failed. 
The sagging ruins of windmill towers and the sunbleached boards of 
tumbling shacks are all that remain to tell the story of efforts that 
quickly destroyed themselves. 





4 8 12 

Acres Required per Cow (5 Sheep) per Month 

FIGUEB 32. Where 4% acres per cow sufficed on the original southern desert-shrub 
range, grazing capacity has so fallen off that nearly 12 acres are required today. 

Even in its virgin condition ? dependable forage production in this 
type was low and was restricted to small areas of grassland in 
drainage ways, depressions, and flood plains. Most of the grass on 
these alluvial areas has been destroyed. Worthless shrubs such as 
creosotebush, tarbush, and mesquite are rapidly taking possession of 
the remaining grass areas. The only abundant forage production 
of the desert is the luxuriant growth of winter and spring annuals 
which flourish in favorable years. At such times, alfileria, Indian- 
wheat, bur-clover, milkvetch, and sixweeks fescue carpet the desert 
valleys. Most important of all is alfileria, which appeared about 
1870 along the freighting and stage routes in southern Arizona. 

Examinations on the Rio Grande watershed indicate that near 
the upper limits of the type the original plant cover was composed of 
grasses and of weeds and browse in the ratio of about 4 to 1, whereas 
the plant cover of the present range in that locality now has 77 
percent weeds and browse and only 23 percent grass. Moreover, the 
cover of the present range is only about one-third as thick as that 
of the virgin range. The result, as expressed in grazing capacity, is 
a great loss in range values, as shown in figure 32. 

About 81 percent of the usable southern desert-shrub range is 
severely or extremely depleted (table 13). On the relatively small 

64946 3( 



accessible grazing area of the type, forage depletion has proceeded 
so far, and climatic conditions are so severe, that restoration of the 
range will be exceedingly difficult and very slow. 

TABLE 13. Depletion of virgin range in the southern desert-shrub type by own- 
ership and depletion classes 

Ownership or control 

(0-25 percent) 

(26-60 percent) 

(51-75 percent) 

(76-100 per- 

All depletion 

National forests 




















Indian lands 

Public domain grazing 

Other Federal 

All Federal 









10, 461 


State and county 


All ownerships 



17, 081 







The salt-desert shrub (fig. 30), though only a moderately pro- 
ductive range type, is important because it provides winter range 
for about 6,000,000 sheep in Utah, central Nevada, Colorado, and 

The present area of the salt-desert range, about 41,000,000 acres, 
is essentially the same as under virgin conditions. The alkaline sub- 
soil has prevented the encroachment of adjoining vegetation types 
and, as the low productivity of the soil and the scanty rainfall have 
discouraged settlers from utilizing the land for crops, most of the 
salt-desert type is still used as open range. Ownership, as in the 
virgin range, rests largely with the Federal Government as unreserved 
public domain. 

Although the salt-desert-shrub type has changed but little in area 
or ownership, it is by no means in its virgin forage condition. Some 
of the main forage plants have almost disappeared from the type 
and have been replaced by unpalatable species. The extermination 
of valuable grasses and shrubs and their replacement by inferior 
species is especially evident on some of the valley plains. Here on 
the somewhat damper soils of the bottomlands, the once abundant 
giant wild-rye has been almost entirely replaced by nearly worthless 
greasewood. On the much more extensive, drier, and less saline soils 
of the valley plains the valuable ricegrass and dropseed have been 
so extensively killed out that they probably can be restored only by 
artificial reseeding. Except for a few fringes, vast areas of the 
palatable and nutritious winterf at, or "whitesage", have been replaced 
by shadscale and little rabbitbrush. In the Ked Desert region of 
southwestern Wyoming the almost worthless rabbitbrush and snake- 
weed have displaced valuable forages on large tracts and are rapidly 



dominating many other parts of the range. Thus, while remnants of 
the virgin range have an average of only 59 rabbitbrush and 41 
snakeweed plants per 2,000 square feet, heavily grazed areas of the 
present range have 193 rabbitbrush and 196 snakeweed plants per 
2,000 square feet of range, or virtual domination of the plant cover 
by these worthless species. 

Besides having a smaller proportion of valuable forage plants, 
the plant cover on the salt-desert ranges is thinner now than in 
pioneer days. An analysis of over 1,700 sample plots indicates that 
the plant cover of the present range averages in western Utah only 
55 percent, in central Nevada 78 percent, and in southwestern Wyo- 
ming about 67 percent as dense as that on small remnant areas of 
virgin or lightly grazed ranges. 

The recent drought is responsible for a part of the current reduc- 
tion in plant density but is not as serious a factor in range deple- 
tion as is commonly assumed. Investigations in southwestern Wyo- 
ming and in western Utah show conclusively that during the 1931-35 
drought from 3 to 10 times as many plants have died on heavily 
grazed areas as on nearby ungrazed or very lightly grazed portions 
of the range (table 14) (136). 

TABLE 14. Death losses of valuable forage plants in the salt-desert- shrul) type 
during the 1931-35 drought 


Western Utah 

Southwestern Wyo- 














Bud sagebrush 

Nuttall salt bush 

Forage values, because of these several aspects of plant depletion, 
have shrunk greatly in the salt- desert-shrub type. The average 
forage values on Nevada ranges are estimated to be only 49 percent 
of those on areas protected from grazing; in Utah, 36 percent; and 
in southwestern Wyoming, 43 percent. Resident stockmen who have 
operated from 12 to 55 years on this range type estimate that the 
present open range is as much as 80 percent less valuable as forage 
than it was half a century ago. Of the 41 million acres in the salt- 
desert-shrub type, almost 90 percent has less than half the forage 
value of the virgin salt-desert range (table 15). The relation of 
land ownership to the status of range depletion in the salt-desert 
type is clearly indicated in this table. It is significant that 75 per- 
cent of the type is public domain and that 90 percent of the public- 
domain area is severely or extremely depleted. Grazing capacity 
in this type has been reduced relatively more than in any of the 
other types, as indicated in figure 33. 



TABLE 15. Depletion of virgin range in the salt-desert-shrub type, by ownership 

and depletion classes 

Ownership or control 

(0-25 percent) 

(2&-50 percent) 

(51-75 percent) 

(76-100 per- 
cent ) 

All depletion 

National forests 












13, 876 





13, 624 





30, 657 




Indian lands 

Public domain grazing 

Other Federal 

All Federal 







14, 977 






State and county 


All ownerships 







18, 657 


40, 858 


Less than 0.5 percent. 

During the past 30 years the forage values on over 85 percent of 
the type have been declining, and the present trend also is down- 
ward (tables 24 and 25, pp. 115 and 116). As indicated in table 25, 
only 1 percent of the type is exhibiting any appreciable improve- 
ment in forage values. 

O 6 12 18 

Acres Required per Cow (5 Sheep) per Month 

FIGURE 33. The greatest falling-off in grazing capacity is to be found in the salt-desert- 
shrub type, where more than three and one-half times the acreage per cow is now 


The pinon-juniper type extends as far north as south-central Ore- 
gon, but is of value for forage mainly in Arizona, New Mexico, and 
southern Colorado (fig. 34). It is much used for spring-fall range 
and in some places as winter range, for which it is valuable because 
its grasses cure naturally on the stalk and because the trees afford 
protection to livestock. 

There has been very little change in the total area of the pinon- 
juniper type during the past century. The rocky slopes and flat- 
topped mesas on which it is commonly found are not adapted to 
crop agriculture, and very little of the original pinon-juniper type 
has been diverted to agricultural crops. Three- fourths of the 76 
million acres in the present pinon-juniper range is divided among 
public domain, national forests, and private holdings. 

On two-thirds of this type the forage is either materially or 
severely depleted, and on an additional fourth it is extremely de- 
pleted (table 16). This loss in forage value probably has resulted 



from a general thinning of the herbaceous cover rather than from 
extensive changes in its composition. For example, on pinon-juniper 
ranges of the upper Kio Grande watershed in New Mexico, grasses 
which originally made up about 80 percent of the herbaceous cover 
still hold this position, except on the most severely depleted areas. 




Much of the open-forest type is on the national forests. Woodland-chaparral is wholly 

a California type. 

The average density of this herbaceous vegetation, however, is in 
that region less than half what it was in the virgin condition. The 
more northerly pinon-juniper ranges probably had a thin cover of 
herbaceous vegetation even before the white man began to use those 
ranges and, with long-continued and excessive use, the forage plants 



have practically vanished from many portions of the type in Ne- 
vada, Utah, and Oregon. There is also little doubt that the general 
thickening of the tree stand throughout the type has still further 
reduced the area which can be occupied by herbaceous plants. 
Many of the small grassy "parks" characteristic of the type have 
filled up with trees, and the junipers frequently have taken posses- 
sion of meadows adjoining the type, thus gradually reducing the 
amount of space available for grass and other forage. 

TABLE 16. Depletion of virgin range in the pinon-juniper type, by ovmersUip 

and depletion classes 

Ownership or control 

(0-25 percent) 

(26-50 percent) 

(51-75 percent) 

(76-100 per- 

All depletion 

National forests 


















13, 811 
10, 352 

22, 302 



Indian lands 

Public domain Grazing 

Other Federal 

All Federal 







15, 027 


51, 026 



State and county 

Private . 

All ownerships 





32, 188 


21, 121 




As a result of the general thinning of the plant cover and the 
rather widespread shrinkage in the area available for the herbaceous 
vegetation between the trees, the grazing capacity has declined 
throughout the type. On heavily used ranges in the Eio Grande 
Basin of New Mexico, it is estimated that the grazing capacity is, 
on the average, only about half of what it was originally, and many 
ranges in that locality show a loss of over 80 percent. Severely over- 
grazed pinon- juniper ranges in south-central Arizona also are be- 
lieved to have lost about three-fourths of their grazing capacity. 
The reduction in the type as a whole is indicated in figure 35. 

Vi rg i n 





Acres Required per Cow (5 Sheep) per Month 

FIGURE 35. Estimated grazing capacity of the pifion-juniper type under virgin-range 
conditions has been reduced by more than half. 

The most widespread and serious forage depletion in the pifion- 
juniper type is, as shown in table 16, on the public domain, Indian 
lands, and privately owned ranges. Under these three forms of 
control more than half of the entire area of the pinon- juniper type 
has lost from 50 to 100 percent of its forage value. 


' 103 

This reduction in forage values is not a recent development. Dur- 
ing the last 25 or 30 years nearly three-fourths of the piflon- juniper 
type has steadily deteriorated as a forage resource (table 24, p. 115) . 
During this period scarcely one-fifth of the total area in the type 
has shown any improvement whatever, and practically all of this is 
on the national forests of the Southwest. 


The woodland-chaparral type occurs chiefly in California, where 
it forms a transition zone between the grassy pastures and crop lands 
of the Great Central Valley and the timbered areas of the higher 
mountains; it also covers extensive areas in the coast ranges (fig. 
34.) The lower portions of this type are open woodlands containing 
valuable forage and are much used for fall, winter, and spring 
grazing. The upper portions are mostly chaparral, impenetrable 
thickets of brush of low value or unfit for grazing but extremely 
valuable in watershed protection and in preventing flood damage to 
lower areas. 

In California the type is estimated to cover about 19 million acres, 
of which approximately 13.4 million acres are open to grazing. 
The type has increased about 3.5 million acres during the past cen- 
tury. About 70 percent of this expansion has been at the expense of 
adjoining areas of commercial timber, as a result of fire and logging. 
Ownership of the present woodland-chaparral range is largely 
private, only about 20 percent being in public ownership. 

The make-up of the herbaceous plant cover in this type has under- 
gone tremendous changes within the past century. More than 30 
years ago, at least one valuable forage plant, California oatgrass, 
had become scarce in certain parts of the type (1$). Other good 
forage plants, such as needlegrass and oniongrass are now much 
less abundant. Partially replacing the plants lost from the type 
are three valuable immigrants which have appeared in consider- 
able quantity : Alfileria, slender oat, and bur-clover. Unfortunately, 
most of the other immigrant plants are of very little value as feed 
for livestock and at least one of them is poisonous. St. Johnswort, 
or "Klamath weed", an aggressive and poisonous introduced plant, 
was first observed by stockmen about 1900 and is now estimated to 
have spread over more than 100,000 acres of California grazing 
lands in this and adjoining types (117). Other uninvited guests, 
more especially foxtail chess, ripgut grass, and other species of chess 
or "cheatgrass ' having stiff beards (awns), mature early and, because 
of mechanical injury, force the removal of sheep from many parts of 
the range. The prevalence of foreign plants in this range type was 
strikingly illustrated by a survey in the San Joaquin Valley where 
on 907 sample plots, the exotic plants were found to make up 59 
percent of the plant cover in the woodland portions of the type and 
51 percent in the chaparral. 

Extensive replacement of good forage plants by species of little 
or no forage value has occurred throughout the type. On a small 
ungrazed area near Sonora, Calif., it was found that 95 percent 
of the grasses and herbs originally present were palatable and nutri- 
tious, whereas only 36 percent of the grasses and herbs on adjacent 
grazed areas are suitable for feed (table 17). A survey in the 



woodland portion of the type in the San Joaquin Valley gave still 
further evidence of the replacement of valuable perennials by in- 
ferior annual grasses and weeds: Sample plots on ungrazed areas 
there have an average of about 69 percent perennial and 31 per- 
cent annual plants, but plots on typical nearby grazed areas indicate 
that the herbaceous vegetation of the present range has only 2 per- 
cent perennials but 98 percent annuals. 

The herbaceous plant cover is, over most of the type, as thick 
now as it was before the range was used by domestic livestock. As 
has been noted, new plants have come into the type in sufficient num- 
bers to replace completely those which have disappeared. Even 
though the herbaceous cover is as thick as formerly, however, the 
total area available for grazing is smaller because existing brush 
thickets have expanded and new ones have appeared. Thus, the 
decline in grazing capacity shown in figure 36 is attributable both 
to the smaller percentage of valuable forage plants and to the smaller 
area available for forage production. 





2 4 6 8 10 

Acres Required per Cow (5 Sheep) per Month 

FIGURE 36. Reduction in grazing capacity in the woodland-chaparral type since pioneer 
days is estimated at 50 percent. 

TABLE 17. Approximate composition of the herbaceous cover on virgin and 
present ranges in the woodland-chaparral type 


Small rem- 
nant of the 




Annual grasses and herbs: 





Total - 



It is estimated that the forage is severely depleted on fully one- 
half of the present woodland-chaparral range, and at least materially 
depleted on the remainder (table 18). Moreover, depletion is con- 
tinuing on about three-fourths of the type (tables 24 and 25). This 
depletion results chiefly from the grass and, brush fires which sweep 
across the foothill country. Woodland-chaparral ranges in all own- 
erships have suffered alike from fire. Even though most of these 
ranges are privately owned, high watershed and wildlife values of 
the type are of great public importance and concerted public and 
private action is needed to exclude fire from the woodland-chaparral 



TABLE 18. Depletion of virgin range in the woodland-chaparral type 
ownership and depletion classes 

Ownership or control 

(0-25 percent) 

(26-50 percent) 

(51-75 percent) 

(76-100 per- 

All depletion 

National forests 


















Indian lands 

Public domain grazing 

Other Federal 

All Federal 



P) o 






10, 640 


State and county. . . 


All ownerships 









13, 406 


i Less than 0.5 percent. 


Open forests are a prominent part of the grazing resource. These 
forests of more or less widely spaced trees with intermingled grassy 
meadows and browse thickets comprise the second largest (126 mil- 
lion acres) of all the range types (fig. 34) and the most widely dis- 
tributed. It includes such diverse forms as nearly pure stands of 
ponderosa pine, ponderosa pine with sugar pine or Douglas fir, aspen 
and fir, spruce and fir, alpine grasslands, and mountain brush. Much 
of it occurs on steep hillsides. Although used to some extent as 
spring-fall range, the open-forest type is preeminently a summer 
range. Much of it lies at high altitudes where the snow remains 
late in the spring and forage generally does not become available to 
livestock as early as in other range types. Portions of the type 
which lie at lower elevations ordinarily are used for spring-fall 

Of the 126 million acres of open-forest range, about half is in large 
blocks under national-forest supervision and a little more than a 
third is in much smaller, more widely scattered privately owned 

Forage depletion in the open-forest type has resulted, as in other 
range types, from the replacement of good forage plants by poor 
ones, and from a general thinning of the herbaceous cover. In addi- 
tion, the development of dense thickets of young trees or brush, de- 
sirable as this may be for timber production or watershed protection, 
has reduced the area available for forage plants. 

The most serious forage depletion is on the numerous grassy 
meadows scattered through the type, which, though relatively small 
in total area, formerly had a very large part of the best forage. 
Replacement of palatable species by plants of inferior grazing value 
is especially evident here. On representative forest meadows in 
Oregon and Washington where tufted hairgrass originally was 90 
percent of the ground cover, it is now only 50 percent, having been 
replaced by dandelion, knotweed, and senecio. In the ponderosa 
pine forests of the Coconino Plateau in Arizona, grasses are 90 per- 
cent and unpalatable weeds 2 percent of the herbaceous cover on 
lightly grazed meadows ? whereas on heavily grazed areas grasses are 


only 10 percent and unpalatable weeds 75 percent of the cover. On 
some forest meadows of Montana, redtop, alpine bluegrass, sheep 
fescue, oatgrass, gentian, and alpine willows have dwindled in num- 
bers, giving way to weeds of low palatability. In the ponderosa pine 
forests of Montana and northern Idaho it is reported that such for- 
age grasses as wheatgrass, Idaho fescue, and bluegrass are scarcer, 
and that downy chess ("cheatgrass") and inferior weeds are increas- 
ing. In the Southwest, mountain-mahogany, cliffrose, and other 
highly palatable browse species are being replaced in many places by 
the much less palatable manzanita and skunkbush. 

Likewise the greatest changes in the density of the herbaceous 
cover have occurred in the forest meadows, "parks", and alpine grass- 
lands. Cattle congregate on such areas and, because feed is more 
abundant and herding easier, it is difficult to prevent overuse by 
sheep. In some parts of the ponderosa pine forests of northern 
Arizona it is estimated that the herbaceous cover on these mountain 
parks is only 45 percent as thick as on similar areas where livestock 
have not congregated. An analysis of results obtained by measuring 
the herbaceous cover on nearly 1,200 plots in the open forests and 
mountain meadows of Colorado and Wyoming indicates the following 
reductions in density of plant cover: 

Reduction from density of virgin range : Percent 

Open lodgepole pine 11 

Ponderosa pine 21 

Alpine meadows 34 

Aspen forests 45 

Oak brush 45 

In some parts of the type the density of the herbaceous cover has 
been reduced to practically nothing through development of dense 
thickets of pine reproduction. These thickets vary from a few square 
feet to several acres in size and effectively shade out the herbaceous 
plants. Thus, although the total acreage classified as open-forest 
type may remain constant, the net area available for forage plants 
may be considerably smaller. On the Sitgreaves National Forest in 
Arizona, it is estimated that the development of dense pine thickets 
on some parts of that forest has been an important factor in reduc- 
ing the grazing capacity of that range fully 25 percent in the last 
20 years. Dense thickets of young pine trees frequently occur on 
logged-over areas of ponderosa pine forests and reduce the amount 
of space available for forage production as do similar thickets in 
the uncut forests. Expansion of brush on logged-over areas also 
materially decreases the space available for herbaceous plants. A 
notable example is the 10-mile advance on a 30-mile front of chap- 
arral thickets on cut-over pine lands in Eldorado County, Calif. 
(18Ji). These trees and brush thickets are, however, highly desirable 
for maintenance of the timber supplies and for watershed protection 
and it should also be appreciated that the loss in forage may be 
merely temporary while the trees are attaining maturity. 

The net result of increased numbers of inferior species, less density 
of vegetation, and the incursion of thickets is expressed in the 
reduced grazing capacity shown in figure 37. 



Forage conditions on the open-forest range as a whole are better 
than in any other type except the tall-grass (table 21, p. 111). But 
these conditions vary widely with ownership. As shown in table 19, 
forage depletion has reached an advanced stage under some forms of 
ownership or land management. About one-half of the type is in 
the national forests, and a majority of the national-forest ranges 
have less than 25-percent forage depletion. Forest ranges under 
other forms of Federal control are, as shown in table 19, largely de- 





Acres Required per Cow (5 Sheep) per Month 

FIGURE 37. Estimated original and present grazing capacity in the open-forest type, 
where nearly half again the range area per animal unit is now required. 

pleted materially or worse. About one-fourth of the privately 
owned forest ranges and about the same proportion of State and 
county lands in this type are in reasonably good condition. 

TABLE 19. Depletion of virgin range in the open-forest type by ownership and 

depletion classes 

Ownership or control 

(0-25 percent) 

(26-50 percent) 

(51-75 percent) 

(76-100 per- 

All depletion 

National forests 

35, 670 




24, 349 

















Indian lands. 

Public domain grazing 

Other Federal 

All Federal 

37, 792 
12, 116 


30, 392 










State and county 

Private ... 

All ownerships . .. 

51, 158 


52, 661 


18, 711 




126, 367 


The close connection between ownership and degree of forage 
depletion is illustrated by a recent survey in the open forests of 
Colorado, Wyoming, and the Black Hills of South Dakota. Detailed 
studies on nearly 1,200 sample plots (table 20) indicate that the 
average loss in forage values from virgin forage conditions is as 
follows: Lands under national-forest management, 25 percent; pri- 
vately owned ranges, 41 percent; and public domain, 63 percent. 
It should be noted that these average relationships also hold for 
smaller portions of the type, indicating that form of management 
rather than local variation in the type itself is responsible for these 
large differences in forage depletion. 



TABLE 20. Decline in range forage value as related to ownership (or control) 
of range lands in the open-forest type in Colorado, Wyoming, and South 





Ponderosa pine 





Alpine meadows 



Aspen forests 

31 6 

71 9 

Oak brush 




Average loss (weighted) .. _ 




Such differences are likely to be even larger in the future. The 
national-forest ranges, when placed under management in 1905, were 
for the most part in about the same condition as other public and 
privately owned ranges are today. Before creation of the national 
forests these areas were "free range" and were misused by local 
stockmen in much the same way as the present unreserved public 
domain. Early records of the Forest Service, amply substantiated 
by statements of local residents, describe many national-forest ranges 
in this type as being little better than "dust beds" almost devoid of 
forage plants. Although these national-forest ranges are not yet 
restored to full grazing capacity, the remarkable improvement which 
has been obtained during the past 30 years proves that with sys- 
tematic management the remaining open-forest ranges now in poor 
condition can be reclaimed. It is estimated that nearly 60 percent 
of the open-forest type has shown appreciable improvement during 
the past quarter century but that the forage values on about 25 per- 
cent are being still further decreased (table 24, p. 115). During the 
past 5 years, as shown in table 25 (p. 116) , the recent unprecedented 
drought (abetted probably by other factors) has caused a temporary 
shift in trends, and only about 35 percent of the open-forest ranges 
are at present thought to be improving in forage value. 


Of the 974,548,480 acres gross area of the present western range 
country, over 245 million cannot be used for grazing. Of these, 
68 million acres are in dense forests ; 10 116 million acres in farms ; 
slightly over 2 million acres are in cities, towns, railroad, and high- 
way rights-of -way ; and 59 million acres are barren or inaccessible. 
In addition, about 8.4 million acres of grazable land are at present 
closed to grazing in order to safeguard water supplies or for other 


The figures given in table 5 indicated radical changes in area and 
ownership throughout the range area, but even more sweeping than 
these are the changes that have occurred in the forage resource itself, 

10 Several million acres of pasture in the dense forest type are not included in this 
68 million acres. The total area of these pastures is so small that a separate type 
classification could not be established and they are included therefore in other range 







Severe depletion (5175 percent) and extreme depletion (76100 percent) predominate 
throughout the West, save in the resilient tall-grass, short-grass, and Pacific bunch- 
grass types. (The white areas of primarily nonrange land comprise chiefly agri- 
cultural land, desert, and dense forest.) 



as the foregoing type descriptions have made clear. These have in- 
volved striking adjustments in the composition of the vegetation 
cover. Valuable forage plants, such as bluebunch wheatgrass, giant 
wild-rye, and ricegrass have entirely disappeared, or almost so, from 
several range types; palatable plants, such as "little bluestem", 
buffalo grass, grama, wild-rye, and winterfat have been replaced by 
such unpalatable plants as snakeweed, cactus, greasewood, shadscale, 
and rabbitbrush; perennial grasses have given way to much less 
nutritious annual grasses, in some types changing the herbaceous 
cover from 75 percent or more perennial grasses to 60 or YO percent 
annual grasses. Foreign plants, many of them nearly worthless or 
even poisonous, have appeared in large numbers. The forage re- 
source of the present range also differs from that of the virgin range 
in that the whole plant cover is much thinner; in many instances 
the present cover is less than half as thick as it was a few decades 
ago. And, in some parts of the range, there is less soil space avail- 
able for forage plants because of the development of dense thickets 
of brush or young trees. 


The types least depleted are the resilient tall-grass and the open-forest, half of which 

is in the national forests. 

TABLE 21. Depletion of virgin, range forage by types and depletion classes 


Moderate de- 
pletion (0- 
25 percent) 

Material de- 
pletion (26- 
50 percent) 

Severe de- 
pletion (51- 
75 percent) 

Extreme de- 
pletion (76- 
100 percent) 

All de- 


Tall grass 

16, 047 

51, 158 



101, 690 
15, 592 
13, 496 
16, 441 
52, 661 



20, 721 
57, 363 
45, 648 
17, 081 
32, 188 
18, 711 



35, 565 
18, 657 
21, 121 


18, 513 
198, 092 
42, 534 
89, 274 
96, 528 
26, 896 
75, 728 
126, 367 

Short grass _ 

Pacific bunchgrass. 

Semidesert grass 


Southern desert shrub 

Salt-desert shrub . 


Woodland-chaparral . .. 

Open forests 

All types 

94, 825 


244, 997 


270, 470 




728, 196 

These changes in the character of the forage resource have greatly 
lessened its value (fig. 38). It is estimated that the forage on about 
55 percent of the present range is severely or extremely depleted 
and has less than half its former value (table 21). Only 15 percent 
of the total area of the present range is in reasonably satisfactory 
condition. The relative average depletion in the range types is 
shown in figure 39. The tall-grass prairies, with three-fourths of 
their total acreage having but moderate depletion, is in the best 
condition of any range type (fig. 40). The open-forest type of 
which 40 percent is only moderately depleted, and 18 percent severely 
or extremely depleted, is second best. The salt-desert-shrub type 
apparently is in the worst condition, since on nearly nine-tenths of 
its total area forage values have fallen 50 to 100 percent. The 
southern desert shrub, the sagebrush-grass, the semidesert grass, and 
the pifion-juniper types are now worth for forage scarcely a third 
of what they were a few decades ago. 



The primary cause of forage depletion is poor management. For 
example, it is well known that the unreserved public domain has been 
treated as "free range", open to any number of livestock and subject 
to no regulations designed to maintain its productivity. As a con- 
sequence 84 percent of the public domain has lost more than half 
its forage value (table '22) and the entire area has been depleted an 
average of 67 percent (table 23). The national-forest ranges, on the 

Tall Grass 
Short Grass__ 
Pacific Bunchgrass 
Semi desert Grass 


Southern Desert 

Salt- Desert Shrub 
Pi non-Juniper 
Wood land-Chaparral 
Open Forest 
All Types 













) 25 50 75 

other hand, though in poor condition when put under regulation and 
though used continuously by large numbers of livestock have been 
handled so as to perpetuate and build up the forage resource. As 
a result of this better management, only 14 percent of these Federal 
grazing lands are in the severely or extremely depleted classes (fig. 
41). Unfortunately, these demonstrated improvements in national- 
forest ranges can have but a minor influence in halting depletion on 
the western range as a whole, for the national-forest ranges consti- 
tute only 12 percent of the total grazable area in the West. 

With destruction of the plant cover has come soil deterioration. 
As emphasized in another part of this report, sheet and gully erosion 













0- 26- 51- 76- 
25 50 75 100 

0- 26- 51- 76- 
25 50 75 100 

0- 26- 51- 76- 
25 50 75 100 



Losses in forage values range from the very favorable condition in the tall-grass to the 
desperate situation in the shrub types. 
















0- 26- 51- 76- 
25 50 75 100 

0- 26- 51- 76- 
25 50 75 100 

0- 26- 51- 76- 
25 50 75 100 



The advantages of grazing management are indicated by the small percentages of severe 
or extreme depletion on the national-forest ranges in contrast with other ownerships. 

6494636 9 



are appearing on many western ranges, washing away the fertile 
topsoil and preventing reestablishment of the plant cover. 

TABLE 22. Depletion of virgin-range forage ly ownership and depletion classes 

Ownership or control 

(0-25 percent) 

(26-50 percent) 

(51-75 percent) 

(76-100 per- 

All depletion 

National forests 





35, 172 




10, 553 





46, 436 



87, 954 
48, 391 

127, 792 
22, 997 



Indian lands 

Public domain grazing 

Other Federal 

All Federal 

46, 399 


75, 691 
138, 397 


109, 376 
136, 885 


56, 514 


287, 134 
65, 516 
375, 546 


State and county 


All ownerships- 

94. 825 




270, 470 


117, 904 


728, 196 


TABLE 23. Average forage depletion 










Tall grass 









Short grass . _ 









Pacific bunchgrass.. 
Semidesert grass 
Southern desert 



















Salt-desert shrub.. - 









Open forests 











All types 









That drastic and immediate action is necessary on a large scale is 
indicated not only by the present deplorable condition of most of 
the western range but also by the present trends in forage deple- 
tion, as shown in figure 42. It is estimated that fully 75 percent 
of the present range has declined in forage value during the past 
25 or 30 years and on only about 16 percent of the total grazable area 
has there been any improvement in forage conditions during this 
period (table 24). The only notable exceptions are (1) the tall- 
grass prairies, of which about 60 percent have remained in good 
condition or have improved, and (2) the open-forest ranges, which 
have shown appreciable improvement on about 55 or 60 percent of 
their area. 

The least improvement in forage conditions has been on the 
public-domain ranges, where only 2 percent of the area has improved 
and over 90 percent has steadily deteriorated. The greatest improve- 
ment during the past quarter century has been on national-forest 
ranges, of which about 77 percent are believed to have improved 
and forage depletion has at least been stopped on approximately 18 
percent of the total area in these ranges. 


TABLE 24. Trends in range forage depletion for approximate period 1905-85 

Type or ownership (or control) 

in forage l 

decline in 

Forage conditions 
more or less 


Tall grass 


( 2 ) 



35, 397 
80, 717 
35, 407 
10, 521 
31, 970 


21, 710 



18, 513 
198, 092 
89, 274 
96, 528 
26, 896 
40, 858 
126, 367 

Short grass 

Pacific bunchgrass 

Seinidesert grass . 


Southern desert shrub 

Salt-desert shrub 



Open forests 


118, 408 

36, 945 


552, 670 

36, 130 
118, 148 
57, 473 
318, 349 


57, 118 

16, 189 


728, 196 

48, 391 
127, 792 
22, 997 
65, 516 
375, 546 

Federal ownership and control: 
National forests 




Indian lands ... 

Public domain grazing districts- 
Other Federal 

State and county 




552, 670 


57, 118 


728, 196 

Includes also those areas in satisfactory condition at beginning of period which are unchanged in con- 
dit ion. 2 Less than 0.5 percent. 


Desert Shrub 


Pinon\Juniper _ 

Woodland - 
Chaparral _ 

Open Forest _ 
All Types 




50 25 25 50 




Over a large portion of the vigorous tall-grass type, and also in the open forest, half of 
which is under national-forest management, forage values are improving or at least 
stationary. Downward trends in the greater part of the other types reflect mainly 
the results of unrestrained use. 



More recently (table 25), these proportions have changed for the 
national forests. It is estimated that only about 50 percent of the 
national-forest ranges are continuing to improve, although further 
forage depletion has been stopped on about 32 percent of the total 
area of national-forest ranges. The reason for this recent change 
can be traced directly to the increase in number of livestock per- 
mitted on the national forests during the World War, aggravated 
by the recent exceptionally dry years. For various reasons, which 
will be explained in a later chapter, it has not been possible to reduce 
the number of livestock using these ranges to limits which officials 
know to be necessary to preserve the forage. The recent droughts, 
coming at a time when the range was overstocked even for normal 
years, caused a still further decline in forage values. No appreciable 
changes in forage depletion trends have been noted for other owner- 
ships, since these (as shown in tables 24 and 25) already were 85 
percent or more on the downgrade. 

TABLE 25. Trends in range forage depletion for approximate period 1930-35 

Type or ownership (or control) 

in forage l 

decline in 

Forage conditions 
more or less 


Tall grass 





16, 767 
21, 357 


37, 517 


18, 513 
198, 092 
26, 896 
126, 367 

Short grass 

Pacific bunchgrass 

Semidesert grass . . 


Southern desert shrub 

Salt-desert shrub 



Open forests 




576, 766 




728, 196 

Federal ownership and control: 
National forests 

14, 556 


16, 821 
36, 760 
118, 673 
18, 360 
327, 191 






87, 954 
48, 391 
127, 792 
65, 516 
375, 546 

Indian lands 

Public domain grazing districts- 
Other Federal 

State and county ._ 





576, 766 




728, 196 

1 Includes also those areas in satisfactory condition at beginning of period which are unchanged in con- 

The need for range management is gradually being recognized. 
Regulation similar to that practiced on the national forests for the 
past 30 years is being put into effect on Indian lands, and more 
recently, a part of the unreserved public domain has been organized 
into grazing districts. But prompt action on a larger, much more 
decisive scale is needed to prevent devastation of the forage resource. 
Several range types already are nearly worthless. The forage of 
all types has far less than its normal value. Forage depletion is 
widespread. And forage depletion is continuing : bad conditions are 
j. The "Great American Desert" of the Forty-niners' 

getting worse 

fancy is rapidly becoming just that in fact. 


Information such as that already given on the range in its virgin 
and present condition is necessary as a basis for the constructive 
program, which is the fundamental purpose of this report. Equally 
necessary is an understanding of the how and why of what has 
happened. The story which follows in this chapter is mostly the 
how and why of depletion, the historical events, the influence of a 
climate not too favorable, the philosophy of range-resource man- 
agement and how it has been reflected in the everyday use of the 
range, the philosophy of land ownership and how it has been re- 
flected in land legislation, interpretation, and administration, the 
various financial forces a complex interrelated group of causes 
and forces which have blinded both range users and the public to 
trends and consequences. In smaller degree the story is also of how 
and why some ranges have been practically restored and some frag- 
ments have been maintained in satisfactory condition. 



By GEOKGE STEWART, Senior Forest Ecologist, Intermountain Forest and Range 

Experiment Station 


The first era of intensive use of western range by livestock coin- 
cided with the great boom in range cattle, which was on the upswing 
in 1880. By 1881 the price recovery from the 1873 depression gen- 
erated in the grazing industry a tide of expansion which became a 
veritable flood in 1883. That year, in Wyoming alone, 20 mammoth 
cattle companies were organized with a total capitalization of more 
than $12,000,000 (98). Of these, the Union Cattle Co. was incor- 
porated for $2,000,000; and the North American Cattle Co. and the 
Searight Cattle Co. for $1,000,000 each. Six others each floated 
stock of a half million dollars or more. Wyoming, however, was 
merely a representative area the same thing was happening, or had 
just happened, up and down the Great Plains from Montana to 
Texas and across the Southwest to California. Even Colorado, 
Utah, Nevada, and Idaho felt the surge of this tide. In a few short 
years practically all ranges were under use and in many cases deple- 
tion had commenced on a scale in keeping with the size of the herds. 

Outfits owning 5,000 to 100,000 cattle were common on the Plains 
and in the Southwest, and properties of small owners were often 
consolidated by purchase or by incorporation. The world-famous 
Santa Gertrudis Kanch of 500,000 acres near Brownsville, Tex., 
was built up by purchased additions to the original Spanish grant 
of 12 secios of 4,428 acres each (118). The Swan Land & Cattle 
Co. was started by combining three ranch properties, totaling about 
30,000 acres and 100,000 cattle, with a half -million-acre range ex- 
tending irregularly from Ogallala, Nebr., westward to Fort Steele, 
Wyo., and from the Union Pacific Kailroad northward to the Platte 
Kiver (98). The XIT outfit in the Texas Panhandle ran about 150,- 
000 head on 3,000,000 acres of land 25 miles east and west by 200 
miles north and south. Hundreds of other ranches running some- 
what fewer cattle, chiefly on public land, had occupied most of the 
range by 1883 and all of it in the Plains Region by 1885 (19). The 
cattle numbers by States, shown in table 26 for 1870, 1880, and 
1886, indicate how rapidly the range forage was appropriated. 

TABLE 26. Cattle numbers' 1 in the 17 western range States, for 1870, 1880, and 


[000 omitted] 









North Dakota 







1 050 

South Dakota .. 





























1 001 


1 258 


4 600 

4 932 

8 587 





New Mexico . . . 

















12 881 

21 699 





Tentative revisions of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. 



Because such immense numbers could not be run on the range 
without cattle of different ownerships intermingling, the managers 
mutually agreed to honor each other's "range rights." These 
"rights", for the most part, had no legal status but were respected 
for many years; and when smaller operators and settlers began to 
push in, the large outfits often used extra-legal pressure to preserve 
the monopoly they had enjoyed under these illicit "range rights." 
Original outfits with only a few hundred cattle were accepted as 
part of the country, but after 1883 whenever newcomers tried to 
enter what the established residents regarded as fully occupied range 
they were practically frozen out by the resident stockmen, who re- 
fused to cooperate at round-ups and other group efforts (98) . 


The buffalo, deer, elk, mountain sheep, antelope, and other forms 
of wildlife, large and small, that were the first users of the range 
had little or no discernible effect upon it in terms of depletion. 
Heavy use by vast roaming or migrating herds of buffalo was com- 
mon, and around strategic watering places, salt licks, and on favorite 
breeding grounds range forage would be so fully grazed that little 
or no feed remained. Yet in every instance seasonal migrations of 
the herds permitted recovery of the vegetation between grazing 

In all other instances of temporary exhaustion of the range re- 
source, such as overuse by huge colonies of prairie dogs (88) , or utter 
destruction of forage by locusts (172), or crickets (H), sufficient 
periods of recuperation occurred to maintain the productive power 
of the original range. No evidence remains to us from those times 
of such persistent overuse as came when the white man began to 
pasture his cattle year after year on the same range, without afford- 
ing any opportunity for restoring plant vigor. 

The Spanish brought to their settlements in Cuba, Florida, and 
Mexico ancestors of the livestock destined to use much of these 
ranges. Stock have grazed intermittently on the southern plains 
since 1540 when Coronado there sought the Seven Cities of Cibola, 
taking with him 1,000 horses, 500 cattle, and 5,000 sheep. The pe- 
riod of continuous grazing began about 1700. At this time, Father 
Kino, a Jesuit missionary, was very active in promoting livestock 
raising among the missions in southern Arizona (70). 

Missions established in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona between 
1670 and 1690, became livestock centers soon after 1700. It seems 
likely that from 40,000 to 50,000 sheep and 10,000 to 20,000 cattle 
were brought to Texas during the mission period. The more settled 
Indians of New Mexico and Arizona fostered sheep and ponies. The 
latter proved well adapted to range grazing, became prized Indian 
property, and multiplied so rapidly and were so widely distributed 
that by 1805 Lewis and Clark found 700 Spanish ponies at one small 
village of Shoshone Indians in northern Idaho (57) . 

California missions, established between 1769 and 1800, so pros- 
pered under the guidance of the padres that in 1834, when the 21 
missions were taken from the church, they had 423,000 cattle, 61,600 
horses, and 321,500 sheep, goats, and swine (58) . Range use must 


have been of major consequence at San Luis Rey where 80,000 cattle, 
10,000 horses, and 100,000 sheep, goats, and swine grazed. 

Texas proved to be especially well suited for cattle. In 1821 the 
Mexican Government contracted with Moses Austin to bring settlers 
into Texas, and many came, enticed by liberal tracts of land ; and the 
success of Austin's colonization scheme then brought a host of re- 
quests for similar grants (100). In 1830 further American immi- 
gration was prohibited, but already about 20,000 Americans were 
there whose attention to cattle growing, together with the mild cli- 
mate, so favored cattle that the stock multiplied to 100,000 in 1830 ; 
to 330,000 in 1850; and to 3,533,000 in 1860 (70). 

With the Civil War came the first large cattle shipments from 
Texas to the Confederate Army. Despite the restraining influence 
of the northern blockade, the consequent stagnation, and the fall of 
prices to $3 or $4 a head, ideal range conditions favored still further 
increase, and made Texas a hive of cattle ready to swarm forth at 
the first opportunity. This came after the war, when currency in- 
flation and rising prices in northern manufacturing centers, together 
with a decrease of 7 percent in total cattle in the United States, 
brought market offerings of $40 to $60 for beef steers (98) . 

The railroads in Missouri, central Kansas, and Nebraska offered 
outlets for these crowded Texas herds. In 1866, real drives to 
Sedalia and Abilene began, and in 1867 when the demand and prices 
were up, more than 1,000 cars left Abilene. Actual demands reached 
such a volume in 1871 that 600,000 cattle were driven northward to 
the railroad in that year. The heavy range use in western Kansas 
and Nebraska that began with these drives never ceased until the 
grass was plowed under, although dropping prices decreased the 
profits and hence the number of drives. By 1885 a total of more 
than 5 million cattle had been driven northward from Texas (98) . 

In a few years, however, fences began to be built, settlement was 
well under way, and railroads were extended into the arid region. 
Advance of main and branch railroads into the range country 
brought the market to nearby railheads. Drives were no longer 
necessary and, as the use of barbed wire for fencing cattle away 
from farms and towns became general, they were discontinued en- 
tirely in 1885. Intense range use was encouraged by the railroads, 
and by 1890 had been extended with their help to every nook and 
corner of the region. 

Meanwhile the Mormons filled the Utah ranges with foundation 
stock which they themselves drove across the Plains, and with lean 
cattle and horses obtained by trading with other emigrants. By 
about 1880 the ranges in northern and central Utah were occupied 
with 160,000 Shorthorns, Devons, and Herefords (11). 

With the discovery of gold in the E-ocky Mountains during the 
sixties, cattle were taken rom Utah and California into Colorado, 
Montana, Idaho, and Nevada. The strong markets of the late 
seventies and early eighties carried grazing onto most of the accessi- 
ble ranges in the mountain region. Here, however, development 
of the country was slower and more substantial, since it came in 
connection with homes and farms. Wild hay and irrigated alfalfa 
produced abundantly and from the first lent stability to range use 
on a community basis. 


The tremendous growth in range cattle, however, carried with it 
a weakness that in the end proved fatal. It was based on a hus- 
bandry transplanted from Mexico, which brought to English-speak- 
ing people for the first time in history the practice of rearing cattle 
in great droves without fences, corrals, or feed. The lariat, the 
type of saddle, chaps, and the sombrero came along with the manner 
of conducting the business. The very newness of it all as well as the 
immensity of the outfits left the Americans without guide or stand- 
ard by which to gage either the security of the cattle as they roamed 
at large or the ability of the forages to stand up under continual 
intense utilization. It is little wonder, therefore, that cattle instead 
of grass came to be regarded as the raw resource and that the neg- 
lected forages began to give way before the heavy and unmanaged 
use to which they were subjected. 

This almost explosive expansion of cattle grazing was based on 
a great natural resource which the stockmen obtained with little 
cost. Grass was the magnet and living bonanza that irresistibly 
drew cattle and cattlemen to this range El Dorado. 

Like the El Dorados of precious metals, the discovery of the grass 
bonanza fired the imagination of cowboys, lawyers, farmers, mer- 
chants, laborers, and bankers, who rushed in to seek their fortunes, 
the poor by personal effort and the rich by investment. Both eastern 
and Old World capital, the latter largely from England and Scot- 
land, fevered through the expectation of profit of 25, 33, or 40 per- 
cent. A large promotion literature flourished, including such widely 
circulated books as Brisbin's Beef Bonanza. After presenting several 
actual cases, Brisbin showed on paper how $25,000 would in 6 years 
pay all expenses and leave a fortune of $51,278. Estimated For- 
tunes and Millions in Beef are significant chapter headings (&/). 

Since a boom was in progress, the stories were believed. Swan, of 
the Swan Land & Cattle Co., promoted in Scotland the corporation 
with the capitalization of $3,000,000 already mentioned, and later 
increased this to $3,750,000 and paid a few dividends from the 
capital (98). Some companies really did make money for a while, 
but lax methods accompanied this "easy" money. Cattle were bought 
on "book" count, and newly purchased cattle were seldom counted. 
Purchase prices soared^ because purchasers bid against each other, 
and because of the buying of breeding stock whose offspring started 
other breeding herds, most of which never went to a consumer market 
but accumulated as capital inventory until the collapse of 1886. 


The expectation of fortunes to be made in a few years led to 
gambling in futures and caused overexpansion both in investments 
and in range use. In this process the accumulated forage of several 
years was mined, overuse taking not only the current growth but 
sapping as well the vigor of the forage plants. The better stock- 
men recognized the danger (98, 1S8), but warnings in a minor key 
during a boom get no hearing, and exploitation raced on. 

This constant drain, without allowing any chance for recupera- 
tion, caused the forage "mine" to peter out. In 1898 Bentley (16) 
reported that some stockmen considered that in parts of Texas "the 
injury has gone almost past the point where redemption is pos- 


sible." Ranges that should have carried a cow on every 40 acres had 
one on every 10 acres. 

While this dangerous process of depleting the ranges by overuse 
and by too early and too continuous grazing was going on, scarcely 
anybody was making provision for supplementary feeding or for 
setting aside winter ranges. Neglect of cattle diseases, too, made 
the risks still higher. All business was conducted on the basis of 
open winters, notwithstanding the fact that Shorthorns brought 
from the farms of the East and Texas stock arriving in late season 
did not go through the first winter safely. Investors, believing 
implicitly in the security of their capital, did not realize they were 
"betting against God Almighty and a sub-Arctic winter" (98). 

Whole fortunes, either owned or borrowed, and speculative loans 
of millions each were all staked on cattle. With no source of income 
save cattle, the stakes were high and the risks breath-taking; but 
since it was a boom, men were irrational. The waste, too, was ex- 
hausting ; cowboys, fully employed only a few weeks at roundup and 
branding, lived during the winters mostly at the expense of the 
ranch owners. 

And just at this point nature spun a "double blank" and collected 
the stake. The winter of 1885-86 was severe from Kansas south- 
ward to Texas and New Mexico. Osgood says 85 percent of the 
cattle were killed in some areas. In the north the summer of 1886 
was hot and dry, grass was short, and cattle were forced on the 
market at reduced prices. In November an Arctic winter set in; 
snow was deep; blizzard followed blizzard; the chinook was fol- 
lowed at once with snow. Young stock fresh from the East and from 
Texas died in great droves, with a mortality of 40 to 60 percent (40). 
Ranges were so closely cropped that cattle losses would have been 
heavy in a mild winter, but with severe cold and deep snow, the lack 
of feed was economically fatal to many stockmen, especially to the 
speculatively financed corporations. The somewhat inaccurately re- 
corded numbers of assessed cattle in Montana decreased from 663,716 
in 1886 to 471,171 in 1887; in Wyoming from nearly 900,000 in 1886 
to just over 750,000 in 1887. Financial confidence, which started to 
wane in 1885, was almost completely lost, and the winter of 1886-87 
gave a body blow to the beef bonanza. When the depression caused 
loans to be called, credit liquidation brought forced sales and 

Starvation of cattle followed severe droughts in the Southwest 
in 1886 (75) ? in Colorado in 1888-90, in the Plains and Southwest 
in 1893-94; in the Coast States in 1898-99, and from Montana to 
Arizona and New Mexico in 1901-4. 


So weak had the boom structure been and so severe the shock of 
its fall that only a wreck of the range-cattle industry remained. 
Range use had been so concentrated and relentless that the best 
coulees were hopelessly trampled, and the back slopes weakened in 
productive power. Herds were broken and scattered; confidence 
was wiped out; and forced sales for liquidation of debts pressed 
down the already broken prices. Cattle which were worth $9.35 


per hundredweight in 1882 at Chicago brought $1 in 1887 (19). 
Naturally, the outfits supported by foreign capital, without the 
personal care of a vitally interested owner, suffered most ; the "cattle 
barons and bovine kings faded out of public interest." On the other 
hand, those to whom cattle raising had been more than a wild 
adventure for big stakes fared best. 

While the range was used recklessly by most ranchers, the neces- 
sity for providing a dependable forage supply was felt, even before 
the ruinous winter of 1886-87, by a few stockmen who had pur- 
chased land in an effort to prevent summer use of range suitable 
for winter grazing (98). Others, realizing that controlled ranges 
had advantages, were willing to relinquish their "rights" and per- 
suaded the national convention of Cattle Growers to recommend 
Federal leases on the public range (33). Before the boom, in 1881, 
stockmen of both Montana and Wyoming fought against enacting 
the law suggested by Powell for enlarged "arid homesteads", and 
urged that all proposals to lease land be rejected ; but after the boom 
they felt Differently about the situation (107, 176). 

No action on this recommendation was taken by the Federal Gov- 
ernment and the cattlemen then attempted to acquire ownership of 
as much land as possible. Cowboys were hired to enter land and 
for a small sum turn it over to their employer. Lands along streams 
where cattle could water and where wild hay could be grown were 
acquired first, and later more and more upland range (98) . 

Windmills, which came to be widely used for pumping water to 
range at a distance from streams, added another expense, but it was 
evident that adequate forage must be assured. Cattle yards and 
loading and sorting chutes were erected. Also ownership of land 
was accompanied by higher grades of livestock; purebred bulls 
(Shorthorns at first, but after 1887 Herefords, which had proved 
more hardy and also earlier in maturing) were introduced (118). 
This use of better stock was in turn accompanied by the use of 
shelters; death by starvation or by exposure of a Texas cow worth 
a few dollars had not been serious, but that of a $200 or a $300 bull 
was avoided by providing shelter and feed, and thus the combina- 
tion of hard winter and market collapse changed the range-cattle 
industry from an adventure into a business. 

From this point on, the history of the range is largely the story 
of the struggle between the big owner and the little owner, with 
the cattle "rustler" as an unrecognized but inevitable ally of the 
small owner. The Wyoming Stock Growers' Association was strong 
enough to blacklist cow hands who had herds of their own, and even 
certain of its own members, but a rustler on trial often had an 
accomplice or several sympathizers on the jury. Since convictions 
were impossible in these cases and the association was strong, a lariat 
on a cotton wood brought swift justice. Although the association 
unduly prolonged its "vigilante" efforts after legal justice was pro- 
vided, it cannot be denied that it did much to put down cattle 
rustling, and kindred practices. 

The land homesteaded by cowboys to add to the big ranch was in 
many cases so located along the streams as to prevent another stock- 
man's cattle from drinking. Larger outfits sometimes in this way 
covered all the water courses in the vicinity and by entering a few 


quarter sections they obtained control of many thousands, some- 
times hundreds of thousands, of acres of Federal land (180). Agree- 
ments among the big stockmen not to cooperate with newcomers in 
round-ups and other group activities, in a concerted effort to squeeze 
them out, aroused resentment. 

Affairs gradually assumed a state of social warfare, culminating 
in 1892 in the "Johnson County war", when the association under- 
took to punish the residents of Buffalo, Wyo., for "harboring and 
abetting suspected rustlers." Several men were killed; the Army 
Eeserves were called out; and arrests of well-known cattlemen fol- 
lowed. Although the matter was hushed up, the big stockman's 
range monopoly was effectively broken; law and justice were here- 
after applied with some show of impartiality to operators of small 
and large outfits (98). 

After this, contention decreased and progress in peaceful settlement 
made headway. The industry was not, however, to ride an even keel, 
for cattle values which had reached another crest in 1898 tumbled so 
rapidly that in 1905 they were only a little over half the 1898 figure. 
After this there was a slow recovery until the European war again 
brought high meat demands and soaring prices. 


Just when security in the ownership of cattle was becoming estab- 
lished and the West was being taught the necessity of welding land 
to livestock to insure dependable forage supplies and range use, a 
tremendous and rapid increase in sheep again stirred up the struggle 
for range. 

Sheep numbers quickly rose from a comparatively small figure to 
veritable hordes. This increase came at different times in different 
States, but maximum numbers were reached in most States between 
1880 and 1910. In California the gold boom brought an increase 
from about 1 million in 1859 to 4.1 million sheep in 1870 and 6.9 million 
in 1880. New Mexico sheep reached their peak number in 1882 with 
5.2 million and Texas an early peak in 1884 with 5.7 million. From a 
few hundred thousand in the early eighties the sheep in Utah in- 
creased to nearly 2.9 million in 1901, in Idaho to about 2.6 million in 
1903, in Montana to 5.7 million in 1903, and in Wyoming to 6 million 
in 1909. 

Vast numbers of sheep appearing almost without warning on fully 
used cattle ranges not only aroused a deep resentment but had a dire 
effect in causing even further exhaustion of the range forage. Com- 
pact herds left the range plants shaved to the ground and the soil 
exposed to wind and water erosion (185). Also sheep were crowded 
right up to ranches and settlements, and since cattle fences did not 
keep out sheep, sometimes even hay fields were invaded. Even more 
destructive of range than the ordinary wool herds were the bands of 
wethers, which could outdistance ewe herds in the race for feed. 

Cattlemen resorted to force in many localities, sometimes scatter- 
ing bands of sheep, sometimes driving them over precipices, and in 
some places setting up dead lines that sheepmen were warned not 
to cross. But herders and owners of sheep were robust frontiersmen, 
and sometimes when a particularly aggressive herder was threatened 


firearms were used, and the cattle-sheep feuds waxed hot. Through- 
out the West there were many such feuds, some of which resulted in 
as many as 30 deaths (1%) , and only after both cattlemen and sheep- 
men were convinced by the community that violence brought retribu- 
tion to both contestants did the feuds cease. 

The outcome of such a relentless contest for range was complete 
utilization of forage; the only way to prevent another outfit from 
obtaining a given range was to strip it utterly naked. To make con- 
ditions still worse, this plant spoilage struck at the very foundation 
of the range resource by furthering the loss of the most productive 
soil the friable, humus-bearing surface layer. 

After 15 or 20 years of such exhausting range use the better forage 
plants succumbed on great blocks of range ; in other areas their vigor 
was so reduced that growth was dwarfed and belated until there was 
little top growth and no seed crop (115). 

Depleted and restricted ranges, with the resulting increased expenses, 
skimmed off most of the profit (133). Wool prices dropped during 
the early nineties and again just after 1910 (36). Sheep, therefore, 
declined during the nineties in California and Texas, during 1901-5 
in Utah, and during 1910-20 in some of the other States, but in 1920-29 
there was a rather large increase in several of the Mountain States. 

The decreased value of wool and the rising demand for lambs 
brought about a marked reduction in wethers and consequently elimi- 
nated the worst form of range use. After 1915 herds consisted largely 
of ewe-breeding stock ; when 3 or 4 months old all the wether lambs 
and half the ewe lambs were sold (133). 

The market-lamb industry, with its heavy investment in good breed- 
ing herds, and the range-use difficulties forced the sheepmen to seek 
sure feed. Shortly after 1900 national-forest permits began to assist 
greatly ; some private land was leased and some was purchased (133) . 
The sheep industry then took on two distinct aspects: (1) Market 
lambs as a major product, supported by heavy investments in land 
and facilities; and (2) wool and range lambs combined, with a small 
investment. Though use of range on the national forests hastened 
the combining of the land with sheep, this was a phase of the evolu- 
tion of the industry and would have come about in any case. 

Two results thus arose from the use of owned land: (1) Transient, 
nomadic outfits decreased in number ; (2) range use was in part lim- 
ited to the grazing of a definite area, supplemented by feed from 
cultivated land. 

In Texas, in the Southwestern States, and in Oregon the problems 
of sheep grazing were further complicated by the increase in Angora 
goats. The first importation came from Turkey in 1849, and another 
in 1860 (109). Increase was at first slow, but about 1910 it took on 
real proportions. Texas had 248,000 goats in 1898, 1.7 million in 
1909, 2.2 million in 1922, and more than 3.2 million in 1930 (1). 

On Edwards Plateau in Texas, the area of greatest concentration, 
cattle and sheep were grazed in fenced range pastures before goats 
came in. At first it was thought that goats might benefit a range by 
holding brush in check, but in time the better forages decreased and 
the poisonous bitter rubberweed increased. 

Goats are run in smaller numbers in New Mexico, Arizona, Cali- 
fornia, Utah, and Oregon, where they graze on rough, brushy areas; 


but when herded closely, often by alien owners, they have in many 
cases stripped the range of nearly all vegetation. Such forage deple- 
tion does not occur, however, when the goats are handled in open 
herds on properly stocked ranges. 

The increase in sheep and goats was in part compensated for by 
a decrease in horses. Indians and settlers had numerous ponies, 
which, along with the bands of wild ponies, constituted a major 
range use until about 1908, when stockmen and settlers began round- 
ing them up and shipping them out (60). Shooting wild ponies also 
was a regular practice on some ranges. The reduction of farm horses 
by motorization has decreased range use by horses still more. How- 
ever, the gain by the decrease of horses was not nearly equal to the 
increased demand by sheep and goats. 


Settlement, which sometimes preceded and sometimes followed the 
influx of sheep into a locality, markedly intensified the severity of 
range use. Encouraged by land booms, by high prices for cereals, 
by railroads, and by a few favorable seasons, crop-growing was 
pushed far beyond the line safe for tillage (94). Believing that 
cultivation brought increased rainfall and encouraged by a few years 
with more than average rain, the settlers turned good short-grass 
range wrong side up and ruined it for grazing. 

Crop growing became successful on part of this land, but the 
venture often failed in the long run unless irrigation was practiced. 
A few inches below the surface of most soils was a hardpan largely 
impervious to plant roots, and the soil above was not deep enough 
to hold much moisture (178). Nevertheless, these precarious lands 
were oversettled, only to be abandoned in a few years. In western 
Kansas there was a succession of such waves of settlement a genera- 
tion apart. 

The most productive range lands were ripped up for wheat or 
corn, thereby decreasing both the acreage and the acre-yield of 
forage. Between 1880 and 1899, 104 million acres were taken for 
crop growing, largely on the Plains. Settlement served both as means 
of reducing range and also as a means of producing hay and cereals 
which tended to furnish a more stable feed supply. As the range 
area decreased, range use by resident stockmen was concentrated on 
the unplowed area with resulting overutilization, a condition accentu- 
ated by the settlers' farm stock. 

In the mountain region settlement took place almost entirely on 
"spring-fall" range, already the least adequate of the three seasonal 
ranges. Livestock were crowded upward into the lower edge of 
summer range on the one hand and out to the winter ranges on the 
other (133). Use of the summer range at the wrong season did great 
injury by exposing the best forages to too early grazing, and the 
winter range, with only a sparse plant cover, suffered from being 
grazed in the fall and spring periods of recuperation. 

Not all settlement influences, however, were harmful to the range. 
Irrigation to increase forage production is the natural complement 
of grazing in an arid region. Alfalfa growing began in the fifties 
in California, whence it spread eastward to Utah before 1860 and 


from there to Colorado about 1185 and to Montana about 1890. By 
1909 more than 6,000,000 tons of alfalfa hay were produced in the 
range States, much of which was used to supplement range forage. 
Only 1 to 2 percent of the land area was growing alfalfa, but the 
yields were 5 to 10 times as great as those from native forages. 
Moreover, alfalfa hay was unusually rich in proteins and minerals, 
and thus made an unexcelled feed supplement for grazing stock 
(136). Stubble fields and irrigated pastures made the handling of 
livestock more convenient and strengthened the animals by furnish- 
ing a variety and abundance of feed for a few days or weeks as the 
animals moved from one seasonal range to another. Stockmen could 
depend on a definite food reserve to tide their animals over emer- 
gency periods of food shortage such as are occasioned by severe 
winters or by prolonged drought. 

The practice of feeding hay and grain to livestock increased 
rapidly in the Plains States after the severe winter of 1886-87, and in 
the Southwest after the drought of 1891-94. The total supplemental 
feeds, including irrigated pasturage, furnished to livestock increased 
in the range part of the Plains States from 5 percent of total forage 
eaten in 1890 to 17 percent in 1910 ; in the 11 far-western range States 
such feeds increased from 12 percent in 1890 to 40 percent in 1910. 
In 1935 these feeds constituted 29 percent of the total forage in the 
Plains States and 43 percent in the 11 Western States. Such rapid 
increase in the practice of feeding grew out of heavy winter and 
drought losses which resulted in part from the depleted ranges and 
in part from the absence of any provision for suitable reserve range 
for use in winter or during dry periods. Breeding and other animal 
husbandry practices brought great incentives for feeding the more 
valuable animals. The small area of many ranches also tended to 
favor feeding as opposed to grazing. 

As a result of the limited areas of land that could be taken by 
homesteading, varying from 160 to 640 acres, most settlers who be- 
came stockmen obtained holdings much too small and frequently too 
nearly submarginal for family support. The more fortunate ones 
were able to purchase more land, but the great majority struggled 
along with one homestead and whatever public range they could 
salvage, which early became very limited and consequently seriously 
overgrazed. This vast number of too-small holdings was concen- 
trated near larger irrigation projects, where the high cost of irriga- 
tion water and of preparing the land for irrigation frequently limited 
the size of such farms to 20 to 80 acres, too small an acreage to permit 
much farm pasturage. 

One of the worst phases of the settlement of the better range land 
by small ranchers and farmers was the bitter struggle over land use 
which it engendered. Corporate livestock outfits sometimes obtained 
legitimate ownership control of streams and springs, but more often, 
as we have seen, they depended on intimidating the settler who came 
with just enough capital to make a humble beginning. Soon the set- 
tlers entered land along the streams inside illegal enclosures. The 
cropper fenced his grain field and garden, turned his animals out to 
graze, dug a canal, and put in a diversion dam. One day his cattle 
disappeared, his fences were cut, the canal broken, or the dam demol- 
ished. Suspecting the stockmen, he retaliated by killing or driving 
away cattle or by cutting the drift fence. 


When sneep outfits crowded in upon the isolated settlers or upon 
a small irrigated community, the sheep seldom left much forage for 
domestic farm stock, making it necessary to feed teams and milk 
cows the entire year or else provide irrigated pasturage. This the 
settlers considered decidedly unfair (94) This three-cornered fight 
among cattlemen, settlers, and sheepmen was a complex pattern of 
bitter feelings, especially when a huge incorporated stock outfit was 
involved. Worst of all, it put a premium on forestalling another 
outfit, and stripping a neighborhood nearly bare of forage in order 
to keep out a competing user. 

This competition led to increased operating expenses and to in- 
vestment expenditures the purpose of which reached beyond forage 
management. Heavy investments in land, buildings, fences, water 
developments, and miscellaneous supplies were made to provide 
shelter, feed reserves, pasturage, and better grades of livestock. 
However, little or nothing was spent for management of ranges, a 
phase in urgent need of improvement. 

The serious effects of poor range management were increased in 
many sections by fires, particularly in California, where forest and 
brush fires have played an important part in molding and shaping 
the vegetation. Historic evidence and the reconstructed story 
through fire-scarred tissue on century-old trees indicate that fires 
frequently swept forest and foothills alike. But the damage caused 
by these presettlement fires was less serious because nature in her 
own way slowly started anew the process of rehabilitation and build- 
ing back to climax vegetation. Once civilized men entered into the 
picture, fires increased in number and restoration was indefinitely 
retarded. The miner, the early sheepman, and the careless traveler 
all contributed annually to the inevitable smoky skies and burned 
forests (128, IJfi). The net result was the extension of vast areas 
of chaparral, chamiso, and other brush areas of lowest forage 
values, replacing on the upper elevation coniferous forests and on 
the lower levels the more open parklike woodland and savanna types. 
In this process grass and herbs were replaced by undesirable woody 
shrubs, which in repeated fires of the timber type produced forage 
for a short period, followed in a few years by impenetrable thickets 
of manzanita and ceanothus. On areas where fires were used freely 
and where overgrazing followed, perennial grasses frequently were 
replaced by a host of "immigrant" annuals from the Mediterranean 
region of much lower forage value. 


The creation of the national forests, on which are grazed 12 
percent of all the cattle and 23 percent of all the sheep in the West, 
greatly stabilized range use and livestock production. An effort was 
made to administer grazing on the national forests for the benefit 
both of the permanent stockmen and of the adjacent agricultural 
communities. Having a definite range allotment with 3 to 5 months 
of dependable summer feed of high quality helped the stockmen to 
make the adjustments necessary to supply feed for the remainder of 
the year. 

6494636 10 


Prior to 1930 some organized attention was given to the principles 
of range management on northern Indian lands. In 1930 responsi- 
bility for the supervision of all grazing was delegated to the forestry 
branch of the Indian Service, and a distinct forward step was taken 
by inaugurating a plan of management similar to that developed on 
the national forests. 

The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 provided authority to administer 
80 million acres, or about half the public domain, and made possible 
a step toward the management of the grazing on these lands. 

Recently wildlife and game management have come to the front 
in the national forests as problems to be correlated with grazing. 
Recreation, both on national forests and on national parks, has also 
increased greatly in importance since automobiles came into general 
use. The parks, as reservoirs for wildlife, have become much better 
known than formerly. Under the previous near absence of control, 
game and other wildlife in the country as a whole decreased to small 
populations, whereas under the unplanned protection used in the 
West from about 1915 until recently game became so congested in 
some areas as to require serious attention. It is likely that use of 
the range by game will increase in many places, but under good man- 
agement it need not conflict in an important way with livestock 

Both game and recreation have such high public values that they 
will undoubtedly receive preference in the use of small areas of 
range land especially suited for these purposes. 



The participation of the United States in the World War again 
intensified range use by bringing about a great increase in numbers 
of livestock, stimulated by rising prices and by war demands for 
increased food production (66). In 1918-19, the number of animal 
units in the Nation was the highest ever attained (18) , and by 1920 a 
great potential meat surplus had been built up. This important in- 
crease in numbers of livestock had the effect of speeding up 

The additional stocking, together with dry seasons, proved a heavy 
blow to the program of range management on national forests. The 
national-forest administration responded to these urgent national de- 
mands and in 1918 allowed 1,063,000 extra animals to graze on the 
forests, receiving them earlier in spring and keeping them later in 
the fall (60). Justification for it lay in the fact that, although the 
ranges were being depleted, it was difficult to supply the meat de- 
mands of the war period. In addition there was the desire of stock- 
men to benefit by the high war prices. In places the damage done 
to the national-forest ranges has not as yet been fully repaired. 

Also between 1910 and 1929, but mostly after 1915, some 50 mil- 
lion acres of range land, largely on the Great Plains, was plowed up 
for dry farming by a horde of new farmers. Later many of these 
farms were abandoned. 

During the World War and in the post-war inflation period, as in 
the boom of 1883, the easy credit available led to overborrowing. 


Owners were making so much paper profit that overinvestment in 
livestock, land, and improvements resulted. From March 1920, 
scoured wool dropped from $2.05 a pound to 26 cents in August 1921, 
and as a result sheepmen lost heavily by liquidation and foreclosure 
(133). Wool and sheep prices recovered markedly during 1922 and 
1923, but cattle prices on the Chicago market dropped from more 
than $21 a hundredweight in 1919 to just more than $9 in 1921 and 
1926, entailing a long period of deflation in cattle values and heavy 
losses during liquidation of assets. Afterward, along with other in- 
dustries, all livestock prices rose sharply to the 1929 crest. 

In 1930, the mortgage debt was 35 percent of the total value of 
outfits, and this percentage mounted rapidly during the depression, 
owing to shrinkage in land and other values (7). As in other in- 
dustries mortgages were often larger than the current value of prop- 
erty. "Paper" on livestock was also extremely prevalent, practically 
all outfits being heavily mortgaged in order to buy feeds during the 
drought. Inability to pay brought an increase in delinquencies and 
foreclosures. In 1932 the eleventh district of the Federal Land Bank 
alone had taken over 706 farms, valued at more than $3,500,000, de- 
spite the fact that banks were trying to avoid foreclosure on farms 
and ranches. 

The break in livestock prices prevented disposal of livestock at a 
price that even approached production costs. With lambs and ewes 
bringing only a dollar a head in many range localities, and with no 
market at all in many others, sheep numbers greatly increased. A 
similar condition prevailed in the cattle industry. In spite of the 
increased numbers of livestock on the range, much less supplemental 
feed was purchased than in ordinary times, and forage yields reduced 
by drought were woefully inadequate to the demand for range feed. 


The drought of 1930-35, culminating a 10- to 15-year dry period, 
has given another tremendous setback to range forage production, 
already reduced as a result of previous long, severe, and nearly 
unrestricted use. The heavy load imposed by World War increases 
in range livestock had barely begun to lighten, when the slump in 
livestock prices and the drought combined to increase use and reuuce 
forage production (66). 

Throughout the whole history of range use the forage has been 
heavily used and at intervals severely so. The livestock industry 
at times has been badly shaken. Always, however, the industry has 
been able to go on, in part because of the remarkable ability of the 
range to recover at least a part of the values lost. 

In spite of heavy use over a period of many years, the range has 
not been destroyed, although it has been greatly weakened. With 
normal precipitation, growth was increased and the splendid sod 
grasses at least partly refilled the bare spots. Where the grasses 
were killed, the ground was occupied by other plants which, though 
of lesser palatability and smaller forage value, the animals still ate. 
The recuperative powers of the better ranges are so high that their 
capacity to support livestock has on the whole decreased slowly. 


The livestock industry also has shown a great power of resilience. 
After each shock of depletion, drought, or depression, new feed sup- 
plies have been found, at first by seeking new ranges, but later by 
growing hay and other forages and by supplementing range forage 
with grain, cottonseed meal, and other concentrates. Improved 
breeding of livestock and other adjusted production practices also 
helped to offset the increased feeding and other management costs. 
In spite of range depletion, the livestock industry has managed to 
survive, though usually loaded with increasing expenses. 


The history of range occupancy and settlement as summarized in 
the previous pages indicates five issues that require earnest con- 


History records disastrous droughts in 1886 in the Southwest; 
in 1888-90 in Colorado; in 1893-94 in the Plains and Southwest; 
in 1898-99 on the Pacific Coast ; in 1903-4 from Montana to Arizona ; 
in 1917-18 in the Southwest ; in 1923-24 in the Southwest and Idaho ; 
and in 1930^-35 practically all over the range country. Although 
this record is not complete, it shows that intermittent drought is an 
inseparable problem of the range country. Since it can be neither 
avoided nor prevented it must be foreseen, perhaps predicted, and 
at all events provided for. Although determining the most feasible 
economic method of doing these things is no small undertaking, it is 
one that must be attempted. 


As already seen, depletion of the range forage began to be of 
major consequence during the boom of the eighties. Between 1890 
and 1910 sheep and cattle exhausted the vigor of forage by repeated 
close cropping, and oversettlement trimmed away great blocks of 
the best range. While the conflict between large and small operators, 
between cattlemen and sheepmen, and between settlers and stockmen 
for possession of the range intensified its use in no small degree, 
depletion, literally everywhere present, weakened the position of the 
livestock industry. On top of this came the immense increase in 
animals in the war years and the debilitating effect of protracted 
drought, bringing stockmen to the verge of despair. History indi- 
cates that the current of depletion, which still runs strong, will con- 
tinue to do so as long as present conditions are allowed to exist. 
With large areas 50 percent and some others 75 percent depleted, 
it is not too much to predict that the range will become almost 
destitute of forage unless a determined, unrelenting effort at restora- 
tion is begun at once. 


The history of range use is in part a story of failure to conserve 
forage supplies ; to restore depleted ranges ; to plan land use ; to pre- 


pare for drought; and to avert the effects of depression. There is 
an obvious need for gathering and applying new knowledge on 
which to base an effort to solve these problems. 


History has also disclosed the part that subdivision of land in 
ill-advised efforts to encourage settlement of unsuitable or too lim- 
ited farm and range units has played in range depletion. These 
past errors in land use are not repaired by mere abandonment of 
farms. Further, they are thwarting efforts at progress in land plan- 
ning and now rise up to plague us as problems in submarginal lands 
and in the resettlement of population. Some means must be sought 
of repairing past errors and of avoiding those likely to arise in the 


Stockmen have repeatedly been at the mercy of drastic price fluc- 
tuations. Breeding herds bought at high prices during a boom 
have led to a surplus of cattle and sheep which has accentuated the 
price decline after the peak (177), sometimes lowering it to a third 
of the boom value. At five different periods, the forced sale of cat- 
tJe on a shrinking market made prices per head out of all propor- 
tion to costs built up largely in a period of high prices, causing debts 
incurred during the up-phase of the price cycle to be a double or a 
triple burden. The Farm Credit Administration has worked on a 
solution of the credit phase of this recurring difficulty. 

Each of these unfavorable consequences of range use is presented 
in detail in this chapter. 


By R. S. CAMPBELL, Senior Forest Ecologist, Division of Range Research 

The hardships of the great 1934 drought were too severe to leave 
any doubt that extreme climatic fluctuations contribute greatly to 
range depletion. Forage production on ranges was so scant in 1934 
that wholesale removal of livestock was necessary in parts or all of 
nearly every Western State. Where the drought prevailed, range 
vegetation simply failed to produce sufficient feed to support the 
numbers of livestock being grazed. Tall grasses in Nebraska (179), 
grama grasses in Montana and New Mexico, and bunchgrasses in 
California, in the drought areas, either failed to grow or dried up 
early in the season. 

The 1934 drought emphasized the dependence of range vegetation 
and its forage production upon climate, especially rainfall. It also 
forcibly demonstrated the natural fluctuating balance between cli- 
mate and vegetation, in which range plants increase in abundance 
and productivity during favorable years, and decline and lose vigor 
in dry years. Both wet and dry years, singly or in groups, have been 
occurring ever since man has observed the weather, and vegetation 
responds to them a factor beyond man's control. But more than 
anything else the 1934 drought emphasized the failure of range live- 
stock owners to recognize the extreme fluctuations of forage with the 
climate, and to manage their ranges in such a manner as to meet 
these vicissitudes. The worst depletion that occurred in 1934, and 
during nearly every previous drought, was on overgrazed ranges. 
So many livestock grazed the scant forage during and after the 
drought that little or no vigor remained in the vegetation to start 
a process of restoration that may require decades, especially where 
wind and water erosion have since removed the unprotected fertile 
topsoil. This is in marked contrast to the recovery of forage on 
conservatively grazed ranges. 

What happened in 1934 has happened before, and the cumulative 
effect is no less than widespread depletion of the range resource 
already outlined devastating in its immediate effects and far- 
reaching in its consequences. Each time, climate has played an in- 
tegral part in the depletion. It is obvious that a sound program of 
management to restore and maintain the range must include an 
evaluation of (1) climate and its fluctuations and (2) the influence 
of such fluctuations upon range vegetation and use. 


The generally sparse vegetation on western ranges really is re- 
markably abundant when one considers that the West receives 
roughly about one-third as much rainfall as the eastern half of the 
United States (fig. 43). A line drawn through Amarillo, Tex., and 
North Platte, Nebr., both of which receive about 20 inches of rain- 




fall annually, would separate the country into two broad precipita- 
tion zones (fig. 44). East of the line, the precipitation is over 20 
inches and varies from about 35 inches in the Corn Belt from Iowa 
to Ohio to about 50 inches in the Cotton Belt of the South (81). 
West of the! line, the rainfall is less than 20 inches except in the 
mountains. Over most of the range area between Kansas and Cali- 
fornia it is under 15 inches. The great semidesert region extending 
from southwestern Arizona to southeastern Oregon receives less than 
10 inches. Precipitation in the Rocky and Sierra Nevada Mountains 
averages more than 20 inches, and more than 60 inches in the Cascade 
Range of Oregon and Washington. 





liles City, M 

sr, Oreg.) 
senix, Ariz.) 


iy, N.Y.) 






iTERN (Phc 


FERN (Alba 





CENTRAL (Springfield, III.) 



SOUTHERN (Montgomery, Ala.) 




10 20 30 40 50 60 

FIGURE 43. Western ranges are characterized by low average rainfall, as shown by this 
comparison of precipitation of typical western stations with those in the East. 

Temperatures over western ranges as a whole are no higher than 
in the East (82). However, the combination of low precipitation, 
high day temperatures, low relative humidity, high evaporation, 
high winds, and high proportion of sunshine on the western plains 
and semidesert lands cause plants to use the available water more 

Also, the higher temperatures in the southern half of the range 
country make conditions for plant growth much more difficult there 
than in the northern portions of similar rainfall zones. 


Rainstorms a mile or more wide often move across the range for a 
few miles, giving one particular area a rain of perhaps a half inch 



or more. A short distance away from the storm path, the soil 
remains dry and the vegetation is left without water. More fre- 
quently, the rain on most of the favored strip is less than 0.25 inch, 
and evaporates so rapidly after the storm that plants receive only a 
very temporary benefit. By the time such localized showers have 

5-10 INCHES 

-.10-15 INCHES 

/r/31-15-20 INCHES 


FIGURE 44. There are several main precipitation zones within the western range terri- 
tory. The desert and semidesert of the southwestern and intermountain regions are 
especially dry. 

occurred intermittently during the summer, the range has received 
a greatly varying total rainfall of correspondingly uncertain ben- 
efit to the forage. On the Jornada Experimental Range, an area 20 
miles square in southern New Mexico, where the average summer 
rainfall is 4.78 inches, Forest Service records show that actual rain- 
fall during the summer of 1930 at different locations varied from 2.50 


to 6.60 inches. Such differences, which occur even in favorable 
years, necessarily cause forage growth to be spotty. For example, 
the estimated forage crop in 1930 on the Jornada range was 100 per- 
cent where the rainfall was average or better but only 50 percent 
where rainfall was at the lowest point. Because the Jornada range 
was conservatively grazed, the stand of forage was maintained in 
that year even on the areas of lowest productivity; but on similar 
areas of low rainfall on overgrazed ranges, depletion as high as 15 
percent was observed in that one year. 

Seasons vary greatly between regions within the range area. The 
season of greatest precipitation in the Great Plains is spring and 
summer; but in most of California it is winter, with every season 
of the year bringing rain to some part of the range (81 ) , The pre- 
cipitation also varies in character. In the Southwest nearly all of 
the moisture comes as rain, while on the higher and more northerly 
ranges, much of it is snow. Average annual snowfall at Phoenix, 
Ariz., is only a trace, but at Boise, Idaho, it is 25 inches, and at Yel- 
lowstone Park, Wyo., 97 inches (156) . 

Temperature is important in determining the actual period of 
forage production, because growing plants require warm weather in 
addition to available moisture. Thus, the plant in Idaho under sev- 
eral feet of snow is just as dormant as the plant in Arizona during 
continued warm, dry weather. 

The seasonal differences in climate between regions, and between 
years within each region cause corresponding differences in the start 
of plant growth and in the volume of range forage produced. Ran^e 
use that allows livestock to graze the forage before it is sufficiently 
developed, or that otherwise disregards these seasonal differences 
contributes greatly to range deterioration. For example, the time 
when bluebunch wheatgrass, an important forage species, started 
growth in southeastern Idaho varied from March 20 to April 24 dur- 
ing a 9-year period. A loss of 49 percent of the forage value was 
caused in one experimental pasture where the vegetation was grazed 
too early every year for the 9 years. 


The severity of drought on western ranges can be more fully 
appreciated by comparison with the eastern farm belt. The lowest 
annual rainfall for the State of Ohio was 26.56 inches in 1934, while 
the average annual is 37.75 inches; but in Utah the lowest rainfall 
recorded was 8.38 inches in 1900, while the average is 12.87 inches 
(156). The worst drought ever recorded in the Corn Belt or the 
Cotton Belt appears to be an abundance of rainfall when contrasted 
with the average on western ranges (fig. 45). The lowest annual 
rainfall at any stations throughout the West and East make an even 
more striking contrast. For example, the lowest rainfall ever re- 
corded at Des Moines, Iowa, was 18.24 inches in 1910, or 57 percent 
of average; but at Miles City, Mont., rainfall during the 1934 drought 
was only 5.51 inches, or 40 percent of average. 

Drought is both severe and frequent on the western range. Using 
75 percent of the average annual precipitation as an arbitrary cri- 
terion of drought for the range country, more than 3 years out of 



every 10 are drought years over great areas, according to calcula- 
tions which include only 1933 and thus exclude the severe 1934 
drought (fig. 46). The Mohave-Gila Desert has drought 4 years out 
of 10j or nearly every other year, which alone labels it as the most 
unreliable country for grazing in the West. The semidesert ranges 
of the Southwest and Intermountain regions are only slightly less 
hazardous. Certain portions of the Great Plains have drought 3 
years in 10, a hazardous situation even for range use, but much more 
risky for cultivated crops not as well adapted as the native vegeta- 
tion to such vicissitudes. 


The year 1934 was so severe that it focused the attention of the 
entire Nation upon the disastrous consequences of drought. But few 

YEAR 1900 




YEAR 1934 

52 -YEAR 







) 10 20 30 40 

FIGURE 45. The worst drought ever recorded in the East seems abundant moisture when 
compared with even the average rainfall in the West, as shown by two representative 

people realize that for most of the afflicted range area, 1934 was in 
reality only the culmination of a series of years, mostly below normal 
(17). Kainfall records in the West show whole groups of years be- 
low average, with an occasional year of unusually low rainfall and 
other occasional years of high rainfall. For example, Miles City, 
Mont., had a long series of years with below-average rainfall from 
1880 to 1905, and again from 1917 to 1934 (fig. 47). 

There is hardly a year when it is not dry somewhere in the coun- 
try, but the outstanding recent periods when dry years have oc- 
curred in one or more western regions include 1888 to 1890, 1892 to 
1894, 1898 to 1904, 1910, 1917, 1919, 1924, and 1928 to 1934, inclusive. 
According to the statements of early settlers and actual records in 
recent years, most of these dry years contributed to the decline of the 



range, and this decline was undoubtedly accentuated by overstock- 
ing which did not take into account sufficiently the effect of drought 
on the vegetation. 

The periodic recurrence of wet and dry years suggested by avail- 
able precipitation records is confirmed by the tree-ring studies of 
Douglass (43) . Since trees ordinarily add a new ring of wood each 



The southwest and intermountain desert and semidesert ranges suffer drought (precipita- 
tion 75 percent of average or less) more frequently than other regions. (Based on 35- 
year averages 1899-1933, inclusive; calculations supervised by U. S. Weather Bureau.) 

year, and the width of each ring corresponds to the precipitation 
available that year, with an accuracy of 70 to 85 percent, the tree- 
ring record gives good indication of the climate. In the case of the 
sequoias of California, the data extend as far back as 1310 B. C. and 
indicate cycles of 11 years. Dry years as shown by poor growth of 
ponderosa pines in the area of Flagstaff, Ariz., occurred in 14r- and 
21-year cycles, with major droughts about every 150 years, and minor 
droughts at 40- or 50-year intervals. 



Periods of poor growth in ponderosa pine forests in the Pacific 
Northwest were found to vary from 3 to 14 years between 1630 and 
1930 (89). With such considerable variance in the periods of dry 
years, it is not possible to predict the exact rainfall for any single 
year in the future, although some progress has been made in this 
line (4). The outstanding fact is that dry years and the accom- 
panying reductions of forage production and grazing capacity occur 
with such frequency that good range management requires stocking 
the range on a basis sufficiently conservative to avoid severe drought 
losses or forced sales. 


I 885 

I 895 

I 905 




FIGURE 47. Dry years may occur In groups, with greatly varying precipitation even 
during generally favorable periods, as shown hy actual rainfall records at Miles City, 
Mont., a representative station for the range country. 


It is serious enough to have to plan for 3 or 4 years out of every 
10 having less than average rainfall, but the longer weather cycles 
are particularly disheartening and require even more careful plan- 
ning of range use. For example, Forest Service compilations show 
a decided downward trend in precipitation for the entire Intermoun- 
tain Region since about 1908. In California there was a downward 
trend of 8 inches during the 80-year period from 1850 to 1930 ($1)] 
and further calculations show that the trend prevailed through 1934 
(fig. 48). Such deficiencies may represent only the drier portions of 
long precipitation cycles, and it is possible that the trend may turn 
and continue upward for several decades. However, when progres- 
sive moisture deficiencies accumulate over the active span of 2 or 3 



generations, even the peaks of short-term cycles need to be discounted 
in management plans that are to provide for avoiding excessive deple- 
tion. There is little question that this long-time deficiency in Cali- 
fornia has contributed to a depletion in that State of nearly 45 per- 
cent on private ranges and more than 50 percent on State and public- 
domain ranges. 

1850 '60 






FIGDEB 48. A downward trend of 8 inches in precipitation has occurred in California 

during the past 85 years. 


The density and character of vegetation in the natural state are 
largely determined by climate. Even the casual observer is struck 
by the sparseness of western range vegetation, which is roughly in 
proportion to the rainfall zones in figure 44. A forest or pasture in 
the East, seen from directly above, covers all or nearly all of the 
ground. In the West, natural range vegetation covers on the aver- 
age 20 to 50 percent of the ground, and less than 10 percent in the 
desert areas. 

The adaptability of the individual plant to fluctuating climatic 
conditions, including the power of recuperation after severe loss of 
vigor during drought, is probably the most striking feature of wes- 
tern-range vegetation. Adjustments in the structure of plants which 
adapt them to dry climate, and which result in lower or more efficient 
water use, include reduced size, both of the whole plant and of the 
various parts, such as stems and leaves, thorns, hairs, resin, and wax 
on the stems and leaves, leaves that curl or fold, and leaves that 
drop off quickly, as in most cacti. 

Many range plants make very effective use of the available water. 
Some of the native grasses require less than 400 pounds of water 
to produce one pound of dry plant material in decided contrast 
with the requirements of many cultivated crops. The water re- 
quirement for alfalfa is over 800 pounds, and higher for some other 
plants (126). Moreover, Forest Service experiments in central 


Arizona have indicated that transpiration from native shrubs and 
grasses during the summer is only 10 percent greater than evapora- 
tion from bare soil. 

In spite of all these unusual characteristics of range plants, how- 
ever, they have decided limits of endurance. There is a rather 
definite point in the drying of each kind of soil at which plants wilt, 
according to Briggs and Shantz (20). Most plants in the semidesert 
type wilt temporarily every afternoon during the summer. 

Adequate soil moisture is determined very largely by the frequency 
of effective rainfall. Many light rains are not effective in promoting 
plant growth, any more than they contribute to the underground 
water supply. Light rains of 0.25 inch or less, which evaporate 
quickly, usually have only a very temporary benefit for the vegeta- 
tion and contribute little lasting benefit to forage growth. Under 
usual summer conditions with dry soil, 0.5 inch or more may be 
required to start plant growth effectively. Then the growth may 
be greatly curtailed or stopped during the long periods between effec- 
tive rainfall. The average period between precipitation of 0.5 inch 
or more was found to be 34 days at the Great Basin Experimental 
Kange, a. Forest Service branch station in central Utah. Effective 
rainfall is a vital consideration in sound range management because 
in reality overgrazing usually allows the forage to be used too closely 
between rains. Overgrazing on an experimental pasture at the 
Great Basin range caused a decline of 37 percent in the stand of 
grasses over a period of years, as compared to a conservatively grazed 

The range vegetation is in a constantly fluctuating balance with 
the climate and other habitat factors such as soils and animals. The 
vegetation is naturally reduced extremely during drought but, given 
favorable rainfall, the range comes back after each decline unless 
the natural decline during drought is so emphasized and intensified 
by overgrazing as to cause a fatal or permanent decline. 

Altogether, the adaptability and recuperative powers of range 
plants have not been fully appreciated. Neither have range users 
as a group recognized the endurance limits of range vegetation, the 
variations in vigor of individual plants, and the extreme fluctuations 
in forage productive capacity over the range as a whole. This fail- 
ure to recognize the fundamental nature of the resource has more 
than fully discounted the recuperative abilities of range forage un- 
der existing climatic conditions and has been a major factor in the 
range depletion outlined in other sections of this report. 


Forage production varies greatly from year to year. The volume 
of range forage produced is actually made up of growth made by 
plant parts which livestock relish and eat readily. By and large, 
the grasses, especially perennials, furnish the bulk of the feed, so 
that measurements of forage production are usually based mainly 
upon the growth made by the existing stand of grasses. But the 
stand itself fluctuates greatly. During the 1933-34 drought, 74.8 
percent of the short grass plants were killed on overgrazed experi- 
mental pastures in western Kansas and 64.6 percent on moder- 
ately grazed areas 



Fluctuations in height growth of key range grasses effectively 
show the nature of the problem which must be faced each year in 
range use. For example, height growth of Smith's wheatgrass near 
Miles City, Mont., was 13 inches in 1933, 1 inch in 1934, and 15 
inches in 1935, according to Forest Service measurements. Height 
growth of grasses has been shown to have a close relationship to 
rainfall in numerous other Forest Service experiments (93, 30, 115) . 




o 800 



Product on 


1924 1925 1926 1927 1928 1929 1930 1931 1932 1933 1934 1935 

FIGURE 49. Range forage production fluctuates so greatly from year to year that con- 
servative stocking must be 20 percent or more below average production to furnish 
adequate forage in all but lowest years. 

The variations in the height growth of grass are indeed consider- 
able, but the variations in actual amounts of forage produced are 
even more startling. In Forest Service studies of important forage 
plants in several parts of the West, production of black grama in 
southern New Mexico varied from 98.9 grams per square meter in 
1926 to 1.1 grams in 1928, with no production in 1934; Rothrock's 
grama in southern Arizona varied from 66.1 grams in 1927 to 6.9 
grams in 1928; and mixed grasses in eastern Montana varied from 
178.2 grams in 1927 to 24.9 grams in 1934. Mixed perennial grasses 
in central Utah varied from 3,598 grams per square rod in 1925 to 
1,276 grams in 1934, with an average production of 2,379 grams over 
a 12-year period (fig. 49). It is obvious that stocking the range 
on the basis of average forage production would have provided ade- 
quate range feed in only 6 of the 12 years. Conservative stocking 
at approximately 20 percent below the average would have provided 
adequate forage in 9 years. This would have left considerable 
surplus feed in some years, which in itself is a form of insurance 
against inadequate range-feed production during drought. 

The quantity of reserve range feed needed varies somewhat in 
different regions depending in part upon the relative frequency and 
severity of drought. Conservative stocking at a point 25 percent 


below the average has been recommended by the Forest Service for 
the semidesert grass type (31). 

On a national-forest range in central Utah, where conservative 
grazing has taken the forage fluctuations into account, the stand 
of forage has been improved 100 to 200 percent on spring ranges, 
and as much as 400 to 500 on depleted parts of the summer range, 
since the range was put under management (154-, PP- 5%0-554). On 
the other hand, potentially better privately owned range areas in 
Ford and Parrish Canyons, subject to similar climate, but continu- 
ally overgrazed for at least 10 years, were found to have lost 75 to 
85 percent of the original total vegetation by 1930 (10) . 


Climate largely determines the seasons of the year when range 
use is practicable. It is only natural that livestock owners should 
graze their animals on the range, where feed is cheap, as long as 
possible. However, snow and stormy weather usually prevent winter 
grazing on the high mountain ranges, although at lower elevations 
winter or yearlong grazing is often practiced. All in all, the criti- 
cal seasons of the year on the range usually coincide with the occur- 
rence of dry or otherwise unfavorable climatic conditions. 

In the Southwest, the spring is ordinarily the most difficult season 
for range vegetation, as well as for range livestock. Temperatures 
rise sufficiently high to permit vegetative growth, but the necessary 
moisture is usually lacking. The soil and air are exceedingly dry, 
and winds often blow day after day. The dry soil loosened by graz- 
ing animals blows away from some plants exposing their roots and 
is deposited on others. On the Jornada range in southern New 
Mexico the black grama grass on several thousand acres of range 
was covered over and killed by deposits of several inches of sand 
blown from an adjacent severely overgrazed range in 1917 and 1918. 
During the drought, unmanaged range, heavily overgrazed, espe- 
cially in the spring, declined 81 percent in comparison with a de- 
cline of 58 percent on the more conservatively grazed Jornada range 

The problem of adequate range forage during the spring and 
fall seasons is also serious in the intermountain region. Spring 
feed is especially important to give lambs and calves a proper start. 
A conservative grazing system introduced experimentally by the 
Forest Service at the United States Sheep Station in southeastern 
Idaho brought about a 15-percent improvement in spring-fall ranges 
in 9 years. Sheep were turned onto the range in the spring only 
after soil moisture and rising temperatures had allowed the bunch- 
grasses to become well started. In the same 9 years, forage pro- 
duction declined 50 percent on unmanaged range where too many 
sheep were placed on the range too early in the spring and were 
allowed to overgraze the vegetation. 


In 1935 the stockmen and others in many sections of the West 
were surprised by what appeared to be quick recovery of range 
vegetation from the severe 1934 drought. Once again, just as in 

6494636 11 



previous decades, came overconfident statements to the effect that 
only a few more drops of rain are all that the West needs to "bring 
the range back" (3). What actually happened was rather less 
reassuring than what was popularly assumed to have occurred. 
True, grasses made good height growth over most of the West 
where good rains fell. For example, the height growth of spiked 
wheatgrass in southern Idaho was 8 inches in 1935 as compared to 
4.6 inches in 1934, and black grama in southern New Mexico was 
16.1 inches in 1935, as against 2.2 inches in 1934. But the stand 
or density of vegetation was far from being brought back, especially 
on overgrazed ranges. Measurements in 1935 showed that the grass 
density even on plots protected from grazing declined 77 percent 
as a result of the 1934 drought in central Arizona. Measurements 
at several locations in the West showed that as a result of the 1934 
drought, the density of grasses continued to decrease in 1935 even 










1933 1934 1935 

1933 1934 1935 

1933 1934 1935 


The density of vegetation continued to decline in 1935 in all of these three regions, 
as a result of the 1934 drought, even on ungrazed plots. 


on ungrazed plots, although the 1935 rainfall was about normal 
(fig. 50). Those who saw "recovery" in 1935 failed to realize that 
livestock cannot thrive permanently on a single year's good height 
growth produced by a stand of vegetation thinned and weakened 
by drought and overgrazing. It requires both a good stand or 
density of vegetation and height growth to produce the volume of 
forage necessary for stabilized range use. Forest Service studies 
show that it takes 3 to 5 years of favorable precipitation to restore 
drought-depleted stands of sod-forming grasses and good-seeding 
bunchgrasses even under conservative grazing. Unfortunately, the 
types containing poor-seeding bunchgrasses are widespread in the 
West and have continued to deteriorate, as shown in previous 

The continued decreases in stands of range forage observed in 1935 
confirm studies on the Jornada Range in southern New Mexico, which 
show that the stand of black grama increases or decreases in accord- 
ance with the rainfall for the previous year (93). Thus unusually 
low rainfall in 1921 caused a decrease of 89 percent in the stand on 
ungrazed plots during the 2 years 1922 and 1923. The loss was largely 
restored by 1926 under higher rainfall. Measurements during the 
same period on range overgrazed year after year showed that the 
black grama was completely killed out during the drought of 1922 
and 1923, and was replaced by snakeweed and other worthless or poor 
forage plants during the following years of higher rainfall. 


The foregoing examples indicate the nature of the cyclic trends in 
the stand of range vegetation. Just as the volume of wood grown 
each year by a tree (as indicated by the thickness of tree rings) 
reflects the annual and cyclic variations in precipitation, so the range 
vegetation fluctuates from year to year and over periods of dry and 
wet years. 

Fluctuations in density of range vegetation, broadly corresponding 
to increased or decreased precipitation, have been observed in many 
parts of the West. For example, a stand of mixed perennial grasses 
in southern Idaho varied from 969 cm 2 per square meter in 1926 to 
296 cm 2 in 1935. A similar stand in central Utah varied from 774 cm 2 
in 1931 to 295 cm 2 in 1935. A bunchgrass type in northern Arizona 
varied from 856 cm 2 in 1912 to 2,686 cm 2 in 1930. The stand of vege- 
tation may recuperate wonderfully in good years only to decrease 
again during drought. Overgrazing or other practices which fail to 
accord with good range management and violate the scheme of nature 
so impair the vegetation that instead of recuperating during yearsi of 
favorable rainfall, it actually regains very little of its original stand 
and then declines further in the next drought. Forest Service studies 
on western Utah winter ranges show that the drought from 1931 to 
1934 caused a 20-percent decrease in available forage plants on 
ungrazed plots, but on overgrazed areas within a few miles of water, 
depletion was approximately 60 percent (136) . 

Severe drought also affects the soil unfavorably. The stand of 
vegetation is so reduced that the unprotected soil is exposed to greatly 


accelerated erosion by both wind and water. The now famous "dust 
bowl" of western Kansas and eastern Colorado is an extreme example 
of wind erosion during and following drought. The removal of the 
fertile upper soil layers exposes the raw subsoil and makes it just so 
much more difficult to restore the range vegetation. Accelerated 
water erosion, which is more fully discussed in another section, is fully 
as detrimental to range productivity as wind erosion. 

That actual management of livestock on the range has utterly dis- 
regarded the probability of recurrent drought is shown by a com- 
parison of livestock numbers with rainfall. In New Mexico, for 
example, the major peaks in livestock numbers correspond with the 
major drought periods. Although rainfall steadily decreased from 
1931 to the low point in 1934, livestock numbers continued to increase 
during the entire period (fig. 51) . On January 1, 1934, after one dry 
year and at the beginning of one of the worst drought years ever 
recorded in the State, livestock numbers were at the highest point 
in over a decade. The Government relief purchases in the summer 
of 1934 automatically reduced livestock numbers and absorbed some 
of the losses that private owners otherwise would have suffered. 

The same sort of thing happened in New Mexico in nearly every 
drought period. Although rainfall dropped abruptly during 1916 
and 1917, livestock numbers increased in those two years and dropped 
off rapidly in 1918 and 1919. Again, the rainfall decreased greatly 
during the period from 1920 to 1922, but livestock numbers increased 
during 1920 and 1921 to a peak on January 1, 1922, then dropped off 
sharply through wholesale starvation losses and distress sales during 
the culmination of the drought in 1922 and early 1923. Undoubtedly 
the ranges were badly depleted in 1917 and 1922 so that the peak of 
livestock numbers in 1934 was considerably below the preceding two 
high points. The records for other States and for the entire western 
range area show much the same thing. 

Some vegetative types are much more susceptible to depletion dur- 
ing drought than others. A conservatively grazed black grama type 
in southern New Mexico declined 77 percent from 1933 to 1935, and a 
lightly grazed short-grass type in eastern Montana declined 67 per- 
cent, but a mixed perennial type in the Wasatch Mountains of cen- 
tral Utah declined only 48 percent during the same period. Forest 
Service records of these areas during previous droughts indicate simi- 
lar relationships. Stands of vegetation which vary most offer least 
resistance to continued depletion as a result of overgrazing. This 
factor of susceptibility to depletion must be taken into account in 
any program of use adjustment. 


The delimitation of the range area and of definite regions in which 
range or agricultural use is particularly hazardous, is a necessary 
step in any forward-looking land-use program. Final fixing of the 
boundaries of marginal and submarginal areas will, of course, be 
dependent upon economic and other considerations, but climate alone 
can indicate broad regional characteristics of suitability for grazing 
and cultivation. 

For example, the annual rainfall is below 5 inches over much of 
the Mohave-Gila Desert in southwestern Arizona and southeastern 



California. The available soil moisture there is simply too scant to 
support sufficient palatable vegetation, and the supply of water for 
livestock is so scarce that little attempt has been made to graze large 
areas. Although the desert may furnish occasional winter grazing, 
it is not dependable. 








r 5 












Livestock numbers increased in New Mexico during each of three such major drought 
periods as that of 1933-34, shown above. A typical example of the stocking of ranges 
without regard for natural fluctuations in range forage production. (Percentages are 
based on average annual precipitation and on animal units as of January 1 for the 
period 1915-35.) 

Adjacent to the desert is the zone with 5 to 10 inches of rainfall 
extending from south-central Arizona as far north as Boise, Idaho. 
Nearly all of this great semidesert area is grazed at some time during 
the year, but drought is frequent and the range types are very 
susceptible to depletion, facts which explain why the area de- 


teriorated so greatly during the major droughts of 1893, 1903, 1924, 
1928 to 1931, and 1934. All of these factors combine to indicate 
that at least the drier part of the southern half of this great semi- 
desert zone may be marginal for permanent ranching. The northern 
half, where cooler, temperatures encourage longer retention of soil 
moisture, has better forage production and offers better potential 
permanent range use. Actually the whole area has been badly de- 
pleted by continued overgrazing, especially during severe drought. 

Dry farming has been attempted on many western range areas, 
where even ranching is difficult. Misguided settlers tried to grow 
cultivated crops without irrigation where rainfall is too low for 
other than range use in parts of every western State. The range was 
plowed under, cultivated for a few years, and then abandoned. Out- 
standing examples of such settlement in zones with less than a 
15-inch rainfall have occurred in eastern Montana, eastern Colorado, 
southern New Mexico, and northwestern Utah, within the past 
decade. The net result has been the financial ruin of the hopeful 
farmers, and the physical ruin of the range area involved. Best 
permanent use of the range resource requires a national land-use 
program that will prevent repetition of such ill-advised exploitation. 

The climatic characteristics prevailing on the principal range 
types, and their effect upon the depletion of such types, are major 
problems affecting range use, as will be evident later in this report 
in the classification of types for land use. Where the fluctuations 
and adversities of climate are not too great to permit range use, 
probably the outstanding prerequisite of management is the necessity 
for conservative grazing. Stocking the range at a point sufficiently 
below average forage production to provide adequate feed for the 
livestock in all but the most severe drought years is almost axiomatic 
in management to minimize drought losses, assure stable livestock 
production, and maintain the range resource. Beyond that, however, 
much more intensive study and analysis is required for a final 
solution of the climatic phases bearing on range land use. 

Furthermore, although the land that is too dry or otherwise un- 
suitable for range use may be taken out of production, there still 
remains the major problem, in the face of climatic risks now known 
to occur, of developing systems of range management that will 
enable restoration and maintenance of the forage resources for those 
areas that remain in use. Years such as 1934 make a dismal picture, 
but there are always years of plenty that brighten the aspect. The 
problems are not insurmountable; they are susceptible of solution, 
as outlined in the program sections of this report. 

By W. R. CHAPLINB, Chief, Division of Range Research 

"The Last of 5,000", that graphic sketch by Charles Kussell, 
world-famous Montana cowboy artist, depicts strikingly the ulti- 
mate effect of excessive stocking. One feels that the poor, lone 
"critter", so utterly emaciated and filled with despair, will soon 
be a feast for the coyotes lurking in the background. Granville 
Stuart, in his Forty Years on the Frontier (138) , writes : 

Charlie was in charge of a herd in the Judith Basin, when the owner, who 
lived in Helena, wrote and asked how his cattle was getting along. For 
answer Charlie sent him the sketch. 

The important cause, Stuart indicates, was range depletion, 
brought about by overstocking. He describes how, during the sum- 
mer of 1885, more than 100,000 head of cattle and innumerable 
bands of sheep trailed into Montana onto an already crowded range. 
Then came the first heavy losses from the eating of poisonous plants, 
in the spring of 1886, because of the shortage of palatable forage. 
Again that summer, more stock poured into Montana ; it was hot and 
dry, and a severe winter followed. "The cows were all thin" and 
losses were extremely heavy. Some herds 

perished outright. Others lost from 75 to 80 percent of their cattle. * * * 
In the spring of 1887 the ranges presented a tragic aspect. Along the streams 
and in the coulees everywhere were strewn the carcasses of dead cattle. Those 
that were left alive were poor and ragged in appearance, weak, and easily 
mired in the mudholes. 

This may seem an extreme situation, but many like it were re- 
corded in early historical accounts. Bentley (16), for example, in 
explaining the tendency to expand the cattle business in western 
Texas, states: 

As a result of this madness, the range was overstocked, and a dozen cows 
and sheep were crowded on the "free grass", where half the number was too 
many. The ranges were quickly eaten and trampled out. * * * 

One cowman decided to sell his herd of 25,000 cattle in 1882 : 

He did not get his price, hence had to hold over his herd through the winter 
of 1882-83. It was an exceptionally severe one, and the following spring only 
about 10,000 head were rounded up. * * * On the 100,000 acres he was 
using he might have held 10,000 head of cattle safely, * * * but in his 
eagerness to get rich fast he greatly overstocked the range, made no provision 
for winter feed, never thought it necessary to provide any sort of shelter for 
his stock, and suffered the inevitable consequences of this reckless way of 
doing business. 

Gordon (58), in a special report on the range area accompanying 
the Tenth Census in 1880 considered some ranges overstocked and 
depleted even then. He referred to these conditions in such state- 
ments as the following : 

The best quality of pasture of today (in Colorado) is only comparatively 
good, the best quality of 20 years ago having been essentially changed. * * * 
The character of the natural grazing in southwest Montana has greatly depre- 
ciated. Stockmen of the longest experience reported that a cow ranged 50 



acres to find what grew on 20 acres 6 years ago, and on 5 acres in 1870. * * * 
"Free range" * * * resulted in excessive grazing, and rendered many wide 
areas of Nevada south of the Humboldt River wholly unfit for more than a 
limited stock occupancy. 

Thornber (144), in describing the early situation in Arizona, 
stated : 

The serious consequences attending the grazing, ultimately, of nearly double 
the number of stock on the ranges that could be carried safely year after year, 
culminated in the disastrous droughty period of 1891 to 1894. * * * With 
a general shortage of feed and water on the ranges, stock died off on every 
hand. It is estimated that over 250,000 cattle, out of somewhat more than 
800,000 all told, perished on the ranges in Arizona alone during the period of 
1891 to 1894, not to mention the number of sheep and other grazing animals. 
In many localities from 25 to 50 percent of the stock died from starvation, 
while as many more were left in such condition as to require a season for 

President Theodore Roosevelt's commission to study the land sit- 
uation and to make recommendations for the best utilization of 
the remaining public domain, after an exhaustive study including 
1,400 answers to a circular letter addressed to stockmen throughout 
the West, reported in 1905 (H6), in effect, that the general lack of 
control of the range lands had resulted in overgrazing and in the 
ruin of millions of acres of otherwise valuable grazing territory. 

There can be little question but that these writers and the Roose- 
velt Commission were convinced that during the eighties, nineties, 
and early 1900's, ranges were excessively stocked and were being 
depleted as a result. 

The range wars of these early days were still another symptom 
of overstocking. Had range feed been sufficiently abundant to meet 
the needs of all the livestock that new settlers and stockmen aspired 
to graze, little reason for conflict would have developed. However, 
when the established stockmen witnessed the invasion of "trespass- 
ing" herds and saw their winter's feed supply vanishing, as hungry 
animals consumed every vestige of forage, deadly strife resulted. 

Has excessive stocking, the grazing of more livestock or other 
animals on a range in any year than the available range feed can 
sustain year in and year out, continued on range lands, and has it 
caused range deterioration ? Some stockmen and others are not con- 
vinced that it has. The serious and widespread depletion of range 
lands has already been pointed out. If excessive stocking has been 
responsible, at least in part, and if present stocking constitutes over- 
stocking, there should be evidence to prove it. 


Evidences of excessive stocking include such features as : 

(1) The inability of the range to support the large numbers of 
livestock carried since about 1890 within the range area, indicated 
in two ways by an increasing use of feeds other than range forage, 
and by a declining trend in numbers of livestock grazing range lands. 

(2) Deterioration of the range itself, which is not alone due to 

(3) Present stocking considerably in excess of estimated grazing 

(4) Serious losses and other unsatisfactory production as a result 
of range feed shortage. 




In order to get at the evidences of excessive stocking, it is nec- 
essary to consider first the numbers of livestock which have been car- 
ried within the range area. 

The approximate numbers of livestock, 11 expressed in animal 
units, 12 from 1870 to 1935, within the 11 far-western States and the 
range portion of the six Plains States, are shown graphically in 
figure 52. 


> ro 

> (j\ 

-0 Oi 5 5 C 













' ~^**S 





1 1 1 1 1 1 I 1 1 

1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 

1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 

i i i i i i i i i 

I 1 1 1 1 I l l I 

1 1 1 I 

70 I860 1890 1900 1910 1920 1930 1935 
Eleven Western States Range Portion 6 Plains States 

FIGURE 52. Trends in total animal units in the range country. 

Even in the face of severe losses in critical periods, numbers of 
livestock show a rising trend for the first 48 years. Starvation and 
winter losses of the eighties were soon forgotten; those stockmen 
who still had a remnant on which to build and new settlers with 
capital brought in from the East forced numbers on upward. 
Livestock were pushed back into the less accessible mountain ranges 
and into the poorly watered desert areas. The depression, drought, 
and lack of range feed of the early nineties again took their toll 
and halted the upward trend for a few years, but another upward 
surge, principally in sheep, brought a new high peak about 1903. 

A still higher peak was reached in 1918, the result of the World 
War urge for increased production and the encouragement of high 

"The yearly estimates of numbers of livestock in the range area are derived from the 
published revised estimates of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics for the 17 Western 
States for January of each year from 1919 to 1935, and before that time, from unpub- 
lished revisions by that Bureau where available, and other similar revisions based on 
original published estimates of the Department of Agriculture and Census records. For 
the range portion of the six Plains States, the January 1 estimates for census years were 
determined by using a proportionate ratio of census numbers in counties in the range 
area to that for the whole State. Although these numbers cannot be considered as 
accurate for all years, they do show with reasonable accuracy the main trends for the 
period under consideration. 

12 An animal unit for purposes of this report is considered to be one head of cattle, 
one horse, one mule, five sheep, five swine, or five goats. The ratio of five to one was 
considered a suitable average of the generally lower ratio between cattle and sheep on 
the range, which in places is found by the Forest Service to be as low as three to one. 
and the higher ratio between cattle and sheep in the feed lot used by animal husbandmen. 


prices and easy credit. At that time there were approximately 
13,254,000 cattle, 22,457,000 sheep, 3,347,000 horses and mules, and 
3,565,000 swine and goats in the 11 far-western States. At the 
same time, in the range portion of the six Plains States there were 
approximately 8,082,000 cattle, 1,478,000 sheep, 2,837,000 horses and 
mules, and 5,276,000 swine and goats. Since the war there has been 
a declining trend in livestock numbers with an abrupt drop in 1934. 
Total number of animals within the range area is not an entirely 
reliable criterion of overstocking since it does not tell the whole 
story. Numbers which have grazed on the range is the important 
point. Those who have considered that, because numbers within the 
range area have held up during the last 35 years, there has been no 
widespread overstocking, have overlooked several important factors. 
True, animal units on hand January 1, 1935, in the 11 far-western 
States were only 4.4 percent below the 35-year average; and in the 
range portion of the 6 Plains States, about 7 percent below ; but such 
calculations fail to take into account the influence of supplemental 
feed, irrigated pastures, and other factors. 


In the early days of the West nearly all livestock obtained their 
feed from range forage. A few ranches put up a small quantity of 
hay, but this was used primarily for maintaining the saddle horses 
rather than as supplemental feed for other livestock, except when 
deep snows or other emergencies required. 

When the pressure for range became acute the cattlemen, who were 
the first to feel it, not only began to practice winter feeding but also 
to purchase ranch properties on which they could produce hay and 
other roughages. Later, sheepmen in turn were forced to take simi- 
lar action (166). The bringing into permanent crop production of 
about 100 million acres in the West cut into the more desirable range 
areas but made available large quantities of supplemental feeds and 
also much stubble for grazing. 

In 1890 there was only 34,687,000 acres of improved farm land of 
all kinds in the range area, with a little over 3,600,000 acres irri- 
gated; improved pastures were not abundant, and there was rela- 
tively little shipment of concentrates into the range country. By 
1930 the cultivated area was nearly three times as great as all im- 
proved land in farms in 1890 ; hay and other forage-crop production 
was nearly five times as great; irrigated land had also increased 
fivefold ; improved pastures were common on farms, and millions of 
acres of wheat and other grain stubble were used for grazing. Sev- 
eral million tons of grain, cottonseed cake, linseed meal, and other 
concentrates are now produced or shipped into the range area for 
feeding. Other products used for feeding have also become of vast 
importance, such as ensilage, beet pulp, pea vines, bean straw, fish 
meal, and rice and fruit byproducts. 

While part of this feed has been used to safeguard against losses 
from inclement weather and because of changed production prac- 
tices in the livestock industry, much of it has had to be used because 
of increasing scarcity and lower value of range forage, manifest in 
longer winter feeding periods and increased need for supplements at 
other times. 



Numerous examples might be cited from all sections of the West 
of longer winter feeding periods because of scarcity of range feed. 
Cattle are now fed hay and other roughages often for 3 to 5 months, 
whereas in the early days such feeds were seldom required for more 
than a month or so and that commonly as a supplement to winter 

Similarly the loss of highly palatable forage plants from the 
range and the necessity of livestock subsisting on low-value plants 
has required use of concentrates to furnish the protein and vitamin 
A (69} so essential to the well-being of the animals. Thousands of 
tons of cottonseed cake, for example, are fed on southwestern ranges 
and many carloads of grain and other concentrates are hauled to 
ranges in other parts of the West to - supplement the low-quality 
range feed now generally available. The use of this supplemental 
feed, however, has made it possible to carry large numbers of live- 
stock on ranges where they subsist primarily on the low-value plants 
and thus overgraze the more palatable. 

Table 27 presents the approximate number of livestock, expressed 
in animal units per year grazed on range lands, including unirri- 
gated farm pastures and stubble fields, and the approximate number 
which obtained feed from harvested crops, concentrates, and other 
supplements, 13 and from irrigated pastures 14 from 1870 to 1935. It 
is believed that the improved unirrigated farm pastures, grain 
stubble, and unrecorded concentrates shipped into the range area will 
offset the 11 percent decline in range area which has occurred, chiefly 
since 1890. 

TABLE 27. Animal units dependent on range feed and on supplemental feed and 
irrigated pastures, in the 11 far-western States and the 6 Plains States, 

[In thousands of animal units] 

Region and type of feed 









11 far-western States: 
On range ' 


9 214 



10, 449 

11, 180 



On other feed J 













14, 805 

17, 540 



17, 577 

Range portion of 6 Plains States: 
On range ' 



6, 758 






On other feed* 
















11, 707 

10, 195 

Total range area: 
On range l 


12. 021 


19, 910 

18, 079 




On other feed *._ 








10, 480 



12, 733 

21, 337 

24, 101 


32, 536 


27, 772 

1 Including improved unirrigated farm pastures. 

J Harvested crops, concentrates, and irrigated pastures. 

13 The approximate number which obtained feed from harvested crops and other con- 
centrates was derived for each census year by relating the number of livestock obtaining 
feed from harvested crops and concentrates in 1925, as worked out by the committee of 
the U. S. Department of Agriculture (Feed Resources : 11 Western States. Ext. Ser. 
Circ. 41, 23 pp., illus., 1927, mimeographed), to the census record of hay and forage 
crop production in 1925, and then using that same index in relation to hay and other 
forage production as shown by the census in the other census years. The average 
production of recent years was used in 1935 rather than the short feed production in 
1934. In the main this method is comparable to considering approximately 2 tons of 
cottonseed products, 2% tons of grain and other concentrates, or approximately 7 tons 
of hay and fodder per animal unit per year. These figures are more conservative than 
are sometimes used in determining feed requirements in the range area. 

14 Two acres of irrigated pasture is considered necessary per animal unit per year. 



In the range portion of the Plains States, numbers on ranges 
reached an early peak of over 8.5 million animal units about 1900. 
After a decline of around 10 percent to 1910 a new peak was estab- 
lished about 1920 when approximately 9.5 million animal units were 
on these range lands. Since 1920 there has been a decline of about 
24 percent, especially marked in 1934- These figures may not be 
an entirely true picture of range stocking in the Plains States be- 
cause of a number of uncertain factors. There are, for example, 
large quantities of unrecorded grain and other feeds shipped into 
this area, an unestimated area of grain fields that are grazed in 
winter and as stubble, and some of the cattle recorded as on farms 
and ranges on January 1 are shipped out of the area in the spring. 
The difficulty of taking adequate account of these features in the 
Plains States tends to show larger numbers of livestock on ranges 
throughout the year than is probably the case. 

In the 11 far-western States the peak of livestock on ranges was 
reached about 1890, when 12.5 million animal units were obtaining 
their feed from range lands, 88 percent of the livestock then in these 
States. By 1910, around 10.4 million animal units were on range, 
about 60 percent of the total animal units. Following another rise 
to 1920 there has been a^ declining trend to 1935 when about 10 
million, 57 percent of the total animal units, were on range lands. 
Thus a net decline of about 20 percent has occurred on range lands 
since 1890. 

Figure 53 brings out the decline which occurred in the stocking of 
range lands between 1890 and 1910, and again between 1920 and 
1935. While the grazing of heavier animals, as a result of better 
breeding and other improved animal production practices, may ac- 
count in part for these declines, they are also undoubtedly due partly 
to a declining range-feed supply caused by overstocking. 

The rise from 1910 to 1920 represents primarily the increase 
caused by war demands and does not indicate that there was range 
forage available for the excess livestock. In fact there are many 
indications that excessive stocking became the rule. In western 
Texas, for example, the upward trend was abruptly halted in 1916 
and 1917 when range conditions failed, starvation losses were wide- 
spread, and forced shipments of livestock were made as ranges be- 
came more depleted. Along the Texas & Pacific Railroad in the 
Trans-Pecos country, ranges presented a pitiful sight. Feed gone, 
carcasses of cattle in great numbers around water holes, and gaunt, 
stary-eyed cattle still alive, their ribs all but protruding through 
the flesh all these evidences told a tragic story of failure to keep 
numbers within safe limits of range- feed production. 

The opening up of new areas by water developments, trails, and 
other means, has also been a factor in holding up livestock numbers 
grazing range lands. At first the more readily accessible ranges 
were stocked. As high prices stimulated expansion or as exhausted 
feed supplies, especially during drought, compelled removal of live- 
stock from overgrazed ranges, stockmen have drilled wells, con- 
structed reservoirs, and made other improvements in order to utilize 
formerly unused or lightly used ranges. Such improvements ex- 
panded the range livestock industry to the point of compensating 



for livestock decreases necessary on many overstocked and deterio- 
rating ranges. 

Even the decline from 1890 to 1935 does not in itself indicate that 
range feed would satisfactorily support the reduced numbers now 
grazing on ranges. Many herds are being carried on little more 
than a subsistence basis, aided by the feeding of concentrates. Under 
such conditions of excessive stocking, cattle, sheep, and especially 
goats, have continued to graze ranges after all palatable feed had 
been consumed. It has been necessary for the livestock to subsist 
almost entirely upon low-value plants such as the common sagebrush. 






1870 1880 1890 1900 

Animal Units on Range 

1910 1920 1930 1935 
Animal Units on Feed 


Despite rapid stocking of range lands between 1870 and 1890, the declining trends in 
animal units on range from 1890 to 1910 and 1920 to 1935, indicate at least in part 
depletion of range due to overstocking. This indication is substantiated by the 
increasing use of expensive supplemental feed. 

yellow brush, and weeds, which under conservative utilization would 
be grazed, but little except possibly in dry years. 

The striking increase in livestock carried on feeds other than range 
forage shown in figure 53 is in itself an evidence of overstocking. 
Stockmen do not feed hay, costing $5 to $20 or more a ton, or costly 
concentrates, if adequate range pasturage worth $1 to $3 and often 
less for an equal feeding period is available. Winter feeding is ex- 
pensive and ranchers are now compelled to rely largely on the cheap 
summer forage for profit. 


The situation in the 11 far-western States as a whole is duplicated 
to a degree in most of the individual States. New Mexico, for ex- 
ample, illustrates an even more marked decline in numbers of live- 



stock with declining grazing capacity of range lands and increasing 
numbers on supplemental feed (fig. 54) . In 1890 approximately 2.1 
million animal units were grazing range lands, and according to his- 
torical and other evidences serious damage was being done to ranges 
at that time. Both in 1900 and 1910 there were approximately 1.6 
million animal units on the range. It is possible that with these 
lower numbers there were favorable years when the ranges of the 
State as a whole were not materially overstocked. But, by 1920, 
war demands had again increased numbers on ranges to more than 
2 million animal units and the evidence is ample that ranges through- 
out the State were then seriously overstocked. In 1924 many cattle 
had to be moved into old Mexico because of feed shortage. By 1930 



1870 1880 1890 1900 1910 

M Animal Units on Range 

1920 1930 1935 

Animal Units on Feed 

FIGURE 54. In New Mexico, a State in which livestock depend principally upon range, 
a decided downward trend in range forage supply since 1890 is indicated. 

numbers on ranges had dropped to about 1.5 million animal units, a 
decline of about 25 percent in 10 years and approximately this same 
number is grazing range lands in 1935. 

In Utah, top, there has been a declining tendency in numbers of 
livestock grazing range lands since 1900. The increases as a result 
of war demand were not so great as in New Mexico and some other 
States. Increased feed has been an important factor in maintaining 
livestock in the State as a whole. In all, range lands and unirri- 
gated pastures were furnishing only about 45 percent of the feed 
for livestock in 1935, in contrast to about 77 percent in 1900, as 
shown in figure 55. 

In contrast to declining trends in most other range areas where 
depletion has resulted from overgrazing, the 33 counties in the range 



portion of western Nebraska have carried increasing numbers of 
livestock on range up through 1930 (fig. 56). These counties are 
made up primarily of the sand-hill tall-grass prairie type and 
native hay meadows, which up to 1934 showed little if any deteriora- 







200 200 





FIGURE 55. In Utah the animals on feed have more than doubled since 1900, and 
animal units on range have decreased in still greater numbers. 









5 0.4 









FIGURE 56. Livestock obtaining feed from range lands in western Nebraska show an 
upward trend ; care of the range on approximately 12,000,000 acres of sand-hill country, 
wuich constitutes the bulk of the range in this State, has made this possible. 

tion in forage production. In the sand-hill area, in fact, there ap- 
pears to have been an improvement in forage conditions during the 
last 50 years as a result of control of prairie fires and conservative 




When one considers numbers of livestock within most of the 
counties primarily made up of range land, the effect of overstocking 
in causing decline in numbers over the years becomes quite marked. 
Owyhee County, Idaho, furnishes a good example. If we may take 
historical records and statements of old-time stockmen as a basis, 
there is a rather clear indication that in 1888 some 100,000 cattle and 
horses grazed yearlong in the county and at least 50,000 sheep, a 













^ N ^ 


_ - -~~" 




^ 50 



900 1910 1920 1930 1935 

Cochise County, Arizona. Maricopa County, Arizona. 
(Mainly range) (Mainly irrigated) 

FIGURE 57. Striking contrast in variation of livestock numbers between a range county 
and an irrigated county in Arizona. 

total of about 110,000 animal units. These old-timers believe that 
at most times the range was overgrazed. In 1930, 32,000 cattle and 
horses were grazing on the range about half of the year, and 178,000 
sheep not more than 5 months of the year. If these reduced seasons 
of use are taken into account, there has been a decrease of over 70 
percent in the grazing on range lands since 1888. This is an indica- 
tion of serious reduction in grazing capacity, which must in turn 
be due to depletion of forage on the ranges. In this case, the deple- 
tion amounts to approximately 70 percent of virgin conditions, as 
shown by an intensive plot survey of the county by the Forest 
Service in 1932. 

Many other range counties throughout the West show materially 
lower numbers of livestock because of overstocking, although supple- 
mental feed has, in part, offset the decline in range feed. For ex- 
ample, numbers of livestock expressed in animal units in Malheur 
County, just across the Oregon line from Owyhee County, Idaho, 


have declined, according to the census, about 30 percent between 1900 
and 1930 ; and in Rio Arriba, Socorro, and Sierra Counties, N. Mex., 
60, 68, and 52 percent, respectively. 

While numbers of livestock in most range counties have been de- 
clining, other counties in which considerable irrigation has devel- 
oped have shown marked increases and thus have offset the range 
counties in the figures for the State as a whole. Maricopa County, 
Ariz., for example, had only 8,000 animal units according to the 
census of 1890; but by 1900 it had 89,000 animal units; and 151,000 
by 1935 an increase of 70 percent since 1900. Figure 57 illustrates 
this trend in contrast to the 39 percent decline in Cochise County, a 
range county in the same State. Yakima County, Wash., had 46,000 
animal units in 1910 and 114,000 in 1930. Although the actual in- 
crease in animal units has not generally been so great, many other 
counties in which irrigation has been developed have shown in- 
creases up to 50 percent. 

All in all, the evidences of excessive stocking shown by livestock 
numbers are marked. Declines of 24 percent in animal units graz- 
ing on ranges in the range portion of the Plains States since 1920, and 
of 20 percent in the 11 far- western States since 1890, have added 
importance when it is considered that many areas of poor accessibility 
have been opened up since 1890 and most range livestock are now 
being carried on a subsistence basis. Similar declines are evident in 
important range States, and even greater reductions in many range 
counties. The greatly increased feeding of supplements more costly 
than range forage is still another striking evidence that present 
numbers carried on the range represents in most cases excessive 


Severe depletion, as brought out in the preceding chapter, has 
occurred generally on western ranges. All types and all parts of the 
West have suffered. In the aggregate, range lands show a deteriora- 
tion of 52 percent. No other explanation for this depletion than 
excessive stocking and overgrazing in their various forms can be 
deduced from the evidence at hand. 


Stockmen generally point to drought as the primary cause of de- 
pletion of their ranges. The importance of this factor has already 
been made clear, but there is no substantial evidence that it is the, 
decisive factor in any but exceptional cases. There has been no 
general recent change in climate despite the recent dry cycle of 5 to 
nearly 20 years in different parts of the West. In the northern plains, 
according to the climatic records at Miles City, one of the oldest sta- 
tions, the recent dry cycle is no worse than the dry period of the 
eighties nor as long. 

Specific evidence that climate alone is not responsible for depletion 
appears in the comparable quadrat records of conservatively grazed 
and ungrazed plots on semidesert ranges of southern New Mexico 
(93). Conservatively grazed areas varied with rainfall almost di- 

6494636 12 


rectly, as did ungrazed comparable plots. On the other hand, range 
areas excessively stocked deteriorated more rapidly, recovered more 
slowly, and consistently supported a poorer stand of forage. 

Fenced and conservatively used areas throughout the West are 
invariably better than excessively stocked and therefore heavily 
grazed ranges. But drought does not stop at fence lines. 


Investigations have shown that a reasonable degree of cropping is 
not detrimental to plant growth. Studies (116} in the mountains of 
central Utah indicate that "grazing closely twice or even three times 
in a (summer) season, provided the first grazing is late enough and 
the intervals are sufficient for the vegetation quite to recover from 
each cropping, ordinarily does not seriously affect the yield and 
vigor of the plant cover." 

The sand hills of Nebraska already cited are an example of a large 
area under private ownership, about 12 million acres, where the 
vegetation has been maintained or improved in recent years under 
grazing. There, slight deterioration of the vegetative cover is so 
apt to start blowing of sand that damage can be readily recognized. 
Rainfall is sufficient, and the character of the vegetation is such 
that when the cause of damage is overcome a rather rapid recovery 
is made. 

Under regulation of grazing on the national forests an effort has 
been made to adjust numbers of livestock to the sustained grazing 
capacity of the range forage. While there is still more or less deple- 
tion of ranges from their virgin conditions prevailing within na- 
tional forests, and while adjustments in recent dry years have not 
entirely kept pace with depletion, most of the national forest ranges 
under grazing use have shown improvement in forage conditions 
since they were placed under administration by the Department of 

Even on semidesert grass and shrub ranges of the Jornada Experi- 
mental Range in southern New Mexico, where vegetative conditions 
vary widely from year to year, studies (93) show that, on sandy 

* * * the average density of black grama over the 13-year period (1915 
to 1927) was practically the same under conservative grazing as under no 
grazing. The decline during drought was rather similar under both condi- 
tions, but the return of favorable rainfall brought more rapid recovery under 
conservative grazing. Conservative grazing appears to break up the large, 
separated tufts formed under freedom from use into smaller tufts better 
adapted to make efficient use of the available soil moisture, * * * black 
grama remains dominant after drought in spite of the rapid inroads of asso- 
ciated grass and weed species. 

A somewhat similar improvement and maintenance of tobosa grass 
areas on clay soils was noted within the Southern desert shrub type 


A plant is, in effect, a plant-food factory. It does not draw its 
food already manufactured from the soil. It must take up water 
and essential plant-food elements from the soil via the root system 
and transport them to the leaves where, together with carbon dioxide 
taken in through the leaves from the air, it manufactures the ma- 



terials which make possible its further growth, the development of 
seeds, and of particular importance in range management the 
storage of food for winter maintenance and the beginning of herbage 
growth the following spring. If the leaves which form this manu- 
facturing plant are consumed before sufficient foods have been 
formed to take care of the essential growth functions, the plant's 
vigor will be sapped. If the food supply is inadequate, the plant 
may succumb. It is of vital importance, therefore, to have a sub- 
stantial leafage available on plants during the growing season. 

In the semiarid range country of the West there is naturally a 
critical balance between the moisture available for growth and the 
needs of the plant cover, with a resulting competition for moisture. 
Where grazing is introduced and the range is overstocked, the 
palatable plants are grazed first and most heavily and are naturally 
the ones to suffer most in this intense competition. The inevitable 
thinning of the palatable plants releases the secondary species and 
gives them the opportunity to increase in density. Where they in 
turn are heavily grazed, in the absence of the more palatable 
plants, opportunity is given for still less palatable species to 
gain dominance. 

Overgrazing for an extended period will thus leave "earmarks" 
which can usually be recognized (7P), especially in the scarcity of 
the choicest range plants and the predominance of low-value annual 
weeds and grasses, or other plants which have little or no value 
for grazing. Along with these signs will be others equally obvious, 
the presence of dead and partly dead stumps or stubby branches of 
shrubs, noticeable damage to tree reproduction, and erosion and 
barrenness of the soil, usually accompanied by a series of stock 
trails terracing the slopes. 

To recognize current overgrazing is more difficult, yet it is im.- 
portant in order to make timely adjustment. It is seldom that all 
species are of equal palatability on a range. Since it is the important 
palatable plants which furnish the bulk of the feed, it is essential 
to use them as helpful criteria, to observe closely the degree to 
which they are grazed, and to stock on a basis that will not injure 
them. Many palatable grasses on western ranges can only sustain 
their vigor and density under a degree of grazing which will utilize 
by the end of the season no more than 70 to 80 percent of their 
herbage production. Of sod-forming grasses, such as most gramas, 
and on soils that are moderately compact, a slightly higher per- 
centage of herbage may be taken in years of favorable rainfall. 
With some bunchgrasses, however, and on sandy soils, it may not be 
wise to utilize even 70 percent of the palatable herbage. Palatable 
shrubs can seldom maintain their vigor when more than 75 to 80 
percent of the tender twigs and leatage is grazed. Still, on most 
ranges, and especially on those inadequately regulated, palatable 
plants are being grazed more closely than these percentages even 
in favorable years when maximum herbage is produced on each 

On nearly all ranges many plants of moderate and low palatability 
are present, which give the appearance of considerable "feed" when 
those that are more palatable have been utilized as fully as they can 
withstand. Dominance of secondary species prevails on millions of 
acres of ranges depleted in excess of 50 percent, and even on some 



showing a 25- to 50-percent depletion. On some of the more se- 
riously deteriorated ranges these secondary species have been replaced 
and only low-value or worthless plants remain. Such is the condi- 
tion of many of the ranges depleted in excess of 75 percent. In the 
light of such evidence, can there be doubt that excessive stocking 
with its inevitable overgrazing has been an important factor in range 
depletion ? 



Table 28 shows the approximate present stocking and estimated 
grazing capacity of range lands by ownership jurisdictions. The 
figures on present stocking on the national forests and Indian lands 
are from actual records. Those for other jurisdictions have been 
approximated from the best available information. The estimates 
of grazing capacity are based upon field surveys of recent years and 
careful examination of some 20,000 vegetation plots representative 
of all range types and ownerships. 

These data show that, even after the removal of large numbers 
of livestock in 1934, there were still on January 1, 1935, approxi- 
mately 17.3 million animal units on ranges within 'the range territory, 
of which approximately 10 million were on ranges in the 11 far- 
western States. In every ownership class more livestock are now 
grazing range lands than the estimated grazing capacity would indi- 
cate could be supported on a sustained basis year after year. They 
also indicate, considering the quality of the range, a much heavier 
stocking on public domain (including grazing districts) and on State 
ranges than on national forests. 

TABLE 28. Present stocking (Jan. 1, 1985), estimated grazing capacity, and 
degree of excess stocking on usable western range 

Region and ownership jurisdiction 



Degree of 
ing 1 

11 far- western States: 
National forests 



7. 1 

Other Federal - - 




Indian lands _ - - 




State county municipal 









10, 032 


40 6 

Range portion (6 Plains States) : 
National forests 



Other Federal _._ - - 




Indian lands 




State, county, municipal - 





6, 053 



Total - 




Total range area: 
National forests - 




Other Federal . - -- 




Indian lands 




State county municipal 



99 8 

Private - .... 

11, 866 




17 292 


59 6 

i Excess over present estimated grazing capacity. 


As previously indicated, the present stocking of ranges in the 
Plains States may indicate heavier overstocking than actually pre- 
vails because of the unknown quantity of concentrates shipped into 
the area, the grain fields which are grazed in winter or as stubble, 
and the heavy movements of cattle out of the area in the spring 
this last factor affecting especially State and private lands in Texas. 

It will be noted that the degree of excess stocking amounts to about 
7 percent on national forests. This is the lowest of all and reflects 
the efforts of the Forest Service to keep grazing within proper limits. 
The greater part of this overstocking on national forests is the result 
of deterioration from drought and the heavy demand from per- 
mittees to maintain their herds during that period when their own 
ranges were extremely short of feed. During the drought of 1934, 
for example, larger numbers of livestock were carried on national 
forests than normally and for a longer season. 

Although overstocking shows up more seriously because of the 
combined deterioration from drought and overgrazing, especially in 
the Plains States, it indicates a very serious situation in all parts 
of the West. This is especially true of the public domain, part of 
which is being placed under administration in grazing districts, 
where it will require a 43 -percent reduction in number of livestock 
now grazed to overcome the 77 percent overstocking which prevails. 
Average excess stocking of about 60 and 100 percent on private and 
State lands, respectively, indicates the serious situation prevailing 
on these ownerships and helps to explain the severe deterioration in 
grazing capacity already discussed in an earlier chapter. 


When more livestock are on a range than the available forage crop 
will support, it is obvious that a shortage of palatable range feed 
at least toward the end of the grazing season with consequent 
starvation will result. 

On ranges on which the palatable plants, such as perennial grasses, 
have been replaced largely by such low-value plants as common sage- 
brush, greasewood, and rabbitbrush, grazing of approximately the 
numbers formerly placed on the range now results in the livestock 
subsisting almost entirely on low-value plants. Stockmen and rep- 
resentatives of the Bureau of Animal Industry report increasing 
losses among sheep on the winter, or so-called "desert" ranges of 
western Utah, primarily from malnutrition. This is not surprising 
in view of the fact that the forage value of these ranges is now 
only 36 percent of that of comparable areas in good condition, as 
shown by a survey of the situation made by the Forest Service in 

Poor or emaciated condition of livestock frequently contributed 
to losses from other causes. Animals in a weakened condition are 
naturally less resistant to many diseases, there is greater danger of 
loss from predatory animals, and weak cows are commonly lost in 
bggy places. The mortality from poisonous plants is also invari- 
ably heaviest when livestock are hungry or when the range is closely 

Official estimates of the Department of Agriculture record annual 
death losses of 9 percent or more among grown sheep as a rather 


common occurrence in the principal range States, even in years that 
were not particularly dry. Since these estimates include losses on 
farms, where the average loss is lower, there is little doubt but that 
range losses are even more severe than the State averages. Further- 
more, range losses are greatly reduced by supplemental feed. Under 
conservative grazing and good range conditions, with adequate sup- 
plemental feed for emergencies, losses are usually not in excess of 5 
percent and sometimes are lower. 

Losses among range cattle are also two or three times as high on 
most unmanaged range areas as they are on conservatively grazed 
ranges in good condition. With average annual losses of about 7 
percent among cattle in the range States in many years, there can be 
little question that inadequate feed from overstocking is a potent 

In drought periods, especially in the Southwest, and during severe 
winters on northern ranges, losses of livestock in a weakened condi- 
tion from a range-feed shortage on overstocked ranges often become 
appalling. From 25 to 35 percent of some herds are lost in such 
so-called "die-off s." On the other hand, herds on lightly or moder- 
ately stocked ranges weather such adverse conditions with losses but 
little greater than their average, usually not exceeding 3 or 4 percent. 

Low calf and lamb crops are but another evidence of excessive 
stocking. Cows and ewes in a weakened condition from feed shortage 
or other malnutrition often fail to breed during the year, and calf 
and lamb crops on western ranges accordingly are lower than is 
desirable. Official estimates of the Bureau of Agricultural Eco- 
nomics, for example, show that in New Mexico, for the 11-year 
period from 1925 to 1935, the average lamb crop amounted to only 
62 percent, reflecting, at least in part, a scarcity of feed on the ranges 
in most years. In 1926, following a year of fairly good rainfall and 
low numbers of sheep in the State, the lamb crop amounted to 78 
percent. In 1932 and 1933, with about a third again as many sheep 
and following average or better years of rainfall, the lamb crops were 
only 52 and 50 percent, respectively. This would indicate that there 
is some relationship between low lamb crops, excessive stocking, and 
poor feed. 

In southern Arizona the calf crop of representative cattle outfits 
using unregulated, heavily grazed ranges averaged only 55 percent 15 
for the 8-year period 1916 to 1923, inclusive. Since average annual 
losses amounted to more than 10 percent, net production was only 45 
calves for each 100 breeding cows, inadequate for profit. This is in 
contrast to an average calf crop of 72.6 percent for the same period, 
on the comparable but more conservatively grazed range, in ood 
forage condition, within the Santa Rita Experimental Range. Here 
losses from all causes amounted to 3.2 percent and net production was 
69 calves for each 100 breeding cows, or more than half again as 
many as on the depleted, overstocked range. 

On heavily stocked semidesert ranges in the Southwest (50) , and 
on brush ranges of southwestern Utah (53), many cows calve only 
every other year. Under such conditions calves grow out poorly 
and require an extra year to attain a weight comparable to calves 
from better and more conservatively grazed ranges. 

"United States Department of Agricculture, Forest Service. Field Day Program, 
Santa Rita Range Reserve. 20 pp., illus. 1925. [Mimeographed.] 


Even on good short-grass plains range of eastern Montana, lower 
calf crops and poor development of calves are clear indications of 
overstocking. Sixty young cows have been grazed for over 3 years 
on experimental range pastures at the United States Range Livestock 
Experiment Station near Miles City, Mont., under the supervision of 
the Forest Service in cooperation with the Bureau of Animal In- 
dustry. All ranges were in good condition at the start. Twenty of 
these cows have grazed 23 acres per cow per year, and this is con- 
sidered to be approximately a 25-percent overstocking. Their aver- 
age calf crop for the 3-year period 1933 to 1935, inclusive, has been 
70.0 percent, in contrast to 81.7 percent from the 40 cows on more 
conservatively grazed pastures. Net calf production in pounds per 
cow has been 194.5 pounds for the 23-acre-per-head group and 264.3 
for the groups on more conservatively grazed range a severe pen- 
alty for such overstocking, even though range depletion in this in- 
stance was very slight until the 1934 drought. 

A slight loss in weight of the cows, such as prevailed on the over- 
stocked range pastures, and even the lower calf weights, are often 
not recognized by stockmen. Furthermore, on some ranges sec- 
ondary species, while not as palatable, may be almost as nutritious 
as the more palatable species. Accordingly, slight deterioration of 
range may not be sufficiently reflected in the condition of the live- 
stock for stockmen to realize the injury that overstocking is doing 
to the range and through it to their own ultimate well-being. 

Such increase, if any, as has occurred in meat and wool production 
in the Western States has been principally due to changes in class 
and age of livestock, improved breeding, increased feeding, and 
other production factors, rather than because of maintenance or 
improvement of range feed. During the latter part of the nineteenth 
century, 4- and 5-year-old steers were commonly shipped, grass-fat, 
from ranges; at present, breeding cows predominate on the range. 
Calves are often sold in the fall or yearlings are marketed in spring 
or fall, especially in the Southwest. In other places many steers 
are held over until they are 2 or 3 years of age. During the early 
years of the western sheep industry, wethers predominated on the 
range. Later, as the public taste for lamb increased and as wool 
prices fell, the wether herds gave way to those made up of breeding 
ewes from which fat or feeder lambs are marketed. Furthermore, 
there has been a marked improvement, especially in the last 20 years, 
in the grade and type of animals grazed. Scrub bulls and rams 
have practically disappeared from the range country, being sup- 
planted largely by purebreds or very high-grade sires. Herds are 
culled closely. The net result has been a greater production per 
animal. Wool production per animal has about doubled in the last 
50 years. 

On many range areas, however, much of the advantage to be gained 
from the improved breeding and other livestock management has 
been lost. To develop well, the better bred animals require ade- 
quate feed. In many years calves are stunted, lambs must be sold 
as low-grade feeders rather than as killers, and wool production is 
hampered by scant and uncertain range feed supplies. In drought 
years the situation often becomes acute ; heavy starvation losses occur 
in the breeding herd and well-bred breeding cows are sacrificed at 


forced sale. Usually the unfavorable range conditions are not so 
severe on sheep, although herds have been decimated by feed shortage 
from drought and severe winters. Thus, years of careful breeding 
may be lost in a single year because of range feed shortage from 
excessive stocking and range depletion. 


The causes of excessive stocking include : Competition for the use 
of range lands ; the stockman's belief that profits result from maxi- 
mum numbers grazed; permitting ranges to suffer in the attempt 
to reduce expenses ; stocking on the basis of better years ; restocking 
too soon after drought; pressure to graze maximum numbers on 
public ranges; the failure of certain public agencies to face their 
conservation responsibility; and finally, a lack of realization of the 


On unregulated public domain and the intermingled uncontrolled 
private and State land, the possession of the range has been largely 
dependent upon such heavy use that even though a stockman might 
desire to reserve range forage for contingencies, to do so would 
simply invite others to come in. Accordingly, the resident stock- 
man has stocked his range excessively to keep the forage reasonably 
well grazed as it grew. Since many small tracts of private- and 
State-owned land are intermixed with unregulated public domain, 
the unrestricted use which has prevailed on the 149 million acres of 
usable range on the public domain has affected probably 150 million 
acres in addition. Even with the establishing of 80 million acres 
of grazing districts under the Grazing Act, doubtless more than 
100 million acres of intermingled ownerships will still be open to 
grazing use by all comers and will continue to be excessively stocked 
until provision is made for its management. 


Stockmen primarily concerned with making ends meet or in mak- 
ing a profit, to which they are justly entitled, generally believe, even 
in the face of periodic financial difficulties, that the greatest financial 
return results from grazing the maximum number of livestock on 
the range. When high prices prevail they sometimes hold surplus 
breeding stock on already crowded ranges in an effort to increase 
production. On the other hand, when prices are low they often 
attempt to carry over salable animals for a higher market, with 
inevitable overstocking of the range. Loans usually have been negoti- 
ated on livestock numbers almost regardless of costs, ability of the 
range to support the number grazed, or net production. In some 
instances loaning agencies have unwittingly encouraged overstocking 
when prices have declined by requesting stockmen to retain young 
salable breeding stock in order to reduce the per head value of the 
loan. By so doing they have overstocked and often undermined the 
range forage resource which, in the last analysis, supports the loan. 



Ranges are permitted to suffer in the attempt to reduce expenses. 
The relatively high cost of supplemental feed, especially on areas 
where it is not abundant, leads to turning livestock on ranges before 
forage plants have attained sufficient growth to prevent injury. Sim- 
ilarly it leads owners to leave stock on the range so late in the fall 
and winter that trampling may do severe damage to saturated soil. 
Such practices are common throughout the West. In Utah and Idaho 
they have seriously impaired the grazing value of millions of acres 
of spring-fall range. 


In years of good rainfall and favorable climate, the forage on the 
range makes a good growth and livestock do well as long as abundant 
feed lasts. This naturally encourages users to make the most of the 
available feed and inevitably leads to excessive stocking when forage 
production drops in dry years. In view of the deterioration which 
such heavy stocking in dry years brings about, as has already been 
discussed in connection with the effects of climatic variations, it 
would seem that the fallacy of stocking ranges on the basis of feed 
production in good years would be evident and that definite provi- 
sion would be made for leaving a substantial margin of range feed 
in the average or better year. Still, many users stock on the basis of 
the better years, hope for rain, and, when the range deteriorates 
from overstocking and average rainfall consequently fails to produce 
the forage they expect, believe they are in a drought period. 


Climatic changes have a way of playing tricks with the vegetation 
that are sometimes deceptive. As pointed out in the discussion of 
climate, the stand of perennial grasses is less dense in the year fol- 
lowing a drought than during the drought year itself. When un- 
usually favorable rainfall follows a drought year, as is sometimes 
the case, the reduced stand of vegetation makes an exceptional height 
growth and appears to be abundant. This often leads to prompt 
restocking. Too many livestock at that time may so closely utilize 
the forage as to seriously affect recovery from the drought. 


On publicly regulated range such as on the national forests, many 
permittees exert constant pressure to be allowed larger numbers than 
they are now permitted. Some challenge reductions necessary to 
control overgrazing, even when they realize that the ranges are suf- 
fering from overuse. The hope always exists that climatic condi- 
tions will bring better feed the following year. This desire to pre- 
vent reduction in livestock numbers regardless of overstocking has 
even crept into the provisions of the Grazing Act. 



Grazing leases of State lands and on certain Federal reservations 
have been made without adequate thought for perpetuation of the 
resource. Ordinarily, there has been lack of knowledge of actual 
conditions on the range and either inadequate or complete absence 
of inspection of actual use and management of the lands adminis- 
tered. The net result has generally been the grazing of more live- 
stock than the range could support on a sustained basis. 

Many leases of such lands provide for the continued grazing of 
the number then grazing on the range or for the average number 
which have grazed over a period of years. Such stocking is often 
spoken of as grazing capacity, and is sometimes used without field 
check of range conditions as a basis for proposed adjustments. If 
range forage has been adequately maintained, average numbers 
grazed furnish an excellent criterion. If, however, through over- 
stocking, the value of the range has greatly declined, there can be 
no assurance that the range will continue to carry the number pre- 
viously grazed. In fact, continued grazing of the same number 
will simply accentuate the degree of overstocking and intensify 
range deterioration. Often under such conditions a drastic reduc- 
tion in livestock of one-fourth, one-half, or even three-fourths may 
be necessary to check further deterioration and start recovery. 


Stockmen are apt to overestimate the grazing capacity of their 
owned, leased, or publicly controlled land because of lack of know- 
ledge of what the range will support on a sustained basis or be- 
cause of a failure to take into consideration all of the factors in- 
volved. There is a lack of adequate knowledge of just what grazing 
capacity is and of simple measures to determine it. This is a fertile 
field for research. 

The public also fails, generally, to recognize the serious conse- 
quences of overstocking to the livestock industry and to community 
welfare, or to take prompt action after recognition. Here in the 
United States the whole social system has been built upon individual 
initiative and action, a vital factor in development but an encourage- 
ment to destructive exploitation. For years the unreserved public 
domain has been a grazing common. Now and then the injured 
public, on their own volition, took action to correct some particu- 
larly bad situation, such as the closing of the Manti Canyon water- 
shed to sheep grazing about 1900 after disastrous floods had caused 
great damage in the town of Manti (108). The establishment of the 
national forests came in an effort to protect forests and mountain 
watersheds in the public interest. Many additions of range lands 
have also been made to national forests at the request of users or the 
interested public to protect more adequately the resource values for 
community benefit. However, even though conditions on the majority 
of range lands have continued to affect community welfare seriously, 
the interested public has hesitated to take action. 



With several hundred million acres excessively stocked and seri- 
ously depleted, the stemming of potential range destruction may 
seem like a hopeless task. Although the situation was rather critical 
in 1934, during that year the drought, depressed prices, and purchases 
by the Federal Government of drought-stricken livestock greatly 
reduced livestock population. However, numbers of livestock in- 
creased during 1935 on many ranges. True, shipments from ranges 
and starvation losses have been so large that conservative increases 
can be made in limited localities within the next few years after 
the ranges recover from their present impaired productivity. In 
most cases, however, the break-down of ranges from past overstock- 
ing and the recent drought is so great that livestock on range lands 
still exceed the grazing capacity by approximately 62 percent and 
will have to be reduced by 38 percent in order to overcome the over- 
stocking. Ways and means of developing an understanding of the 
proper basis for stocking to sustain production of forage and live- 
stock, a willingness on the part of users to adjust stocking to safe- 
guard against impairing production, and regulation of public ranges 
which will protect them against abuse are features which will need 
consideration in order to overcome excessive stocking now prevailing. 


By M. W. TALBOT, Senior Forest Ecologist, California Forest and Kange 

Experiment Station 

As the frontier retreated westward into a land of no fences and 
few familiar kinds of forage, the wide expanses of inviting range 
brought both rich opportunities and a host of knotty problems. As 
great numbers of cows and sheep pressed upon the heels of the van- 
ishing buffalo and swarmed over the free-grass country, a unique 
brand of thought and attitude evolved. This western range philos- 
ophy was quite logically the outcome of the challenge of a strange 
environment to the sturdy pioneer stockman and of his attempts to 
adapt his growing needs to the strange conditions. 

The early stockman had to develop a whole new system of range 
husbandry. In the absence of adequate experience or research facts, 
management of the grazing resource developed largely and quite 
naturally from a basis of rule-of-thumb. Thus the term implies 
all the sundry kinds of range practices that had their beginning in 
the stern necessities of pioneer times and that, in varying degree, still 
persist. Many of these practices, backed by excellent judgment, have 
stood the test of years. Noteworthy are riding, roping, branding, 
etc. the whole technique of handling livestock, in which high pro- 
ficiency has been attained. 

Many other practices, however, have led to range depletion and 
consequently have proved to be unsound from the standpoint of per- 
petuation of the range resource and its other public values. For 
these practices the stockman must share the blame. Still, in exam- 
ining them for clues to their correction, one must recognize that the 
stockman has been in the grip of powerful economic forces to a 
varying but considerable degree. It was inevitable that many indi- 
viduals confronted with the problem of making a living would be 
led into range practices that are, in the end, damaging to the land. 
Just how, then, have these defective practices operated? 


Most range deterioration can be traced back to the attempt to 
graze more animals than the land can safely support from year to 
year. Drought, lack of knowledge of what the range will stand, 
the urge for greatest immediate profit, economic pressures, and other 
contributing factors have all played a part. But most of these have 
been expressed in terms of overstocking, which still looms as the 
most spectacularly destructive of rule-of-thumb practices. Because 
of its high importance as a major factor in depletion, the preceding 
section of this report has been devoted to a detailed discussion of its 
widespread occurrence, its various causes, and its destructive effects. 




Uniform grazing over all parts of the average western range unit 
is rarely obtainable because of variations in topography, timber or 
brush cover, kind of forage, location of watering places, and similar 
differences. Certain parts of a range are thus grazed more heavily 
than others; these are the critical spots or tension zones in which 
range damage has been most pronounced. 


Crowding of choice range is partially explained by the fact that 
most western ranges produce "pie" or "ice cream" forage, as well as 
"hardtack." Livestock prefer the lush forage of mountain meadows, 
for example, to the drier bunchgrass on surrounding timbered or 
brushy slopes. Moreover, cattle tend to drift to the more accessible, 
comparatively open, and usually better watered meadows, neglecting 
the outlying feed; and sheep are more easily herded in the open 
areas. Allotting livestock to ranges on the basis of the forage crop 
on their total acreage has thus quite obviously meant excessive num- 
bers of animals on the comparatively small meadows, canyon bot- 
toms, and other areas of choice feed. The inevitable results, over- 
grazing, reduced forage crop, increased erosion, and impaired water- 
shed value, can be illustrated by two examples. 

A spectacular illustration is the Canada de los Alamos, a privately 
owned meadow in the Santa Barbara National Forest, Calif. In 
1880 a horse could step across the tiny creek meandering through 
this valley. Depletion of the vegetation carpet through continual 
overgrazing, combined with occasional rainstorms of great intensity, 
have brought about a striking change of scene a great "barranca" 
(gully) 100 feet deep, 200 feet wide, and several miles long; an aban- 
doned ranch house menaced by the encroaching arroyo ; and perma- 
nent depletion of range values through lessened valley-floor water 
and volume of forage. 

An historic stage-stop on one of the early emigrant routes fur- 
nishes an even more convincing example of range destruction. 
Mountain Meadows, Utah, at the time of first settlement in 1862 was 
a fertile sod-bound valley of several thousand acres. A recent sur- 
vey by the Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station re- 
veals a striking contrast as a result of man's occupancy, with his 
roads, ditches, and hungry herds, practically all of the deep-soil por- 
tion of the meadow has been worn and washed away, along with 
most of its original grazing capacity. 

As the originally intact plant cover gave way on these and many 
other overgrazed areas, the most palatable forage plants disappeared 
and in their place inferior or worthless plants came in and grazing 
and watershed values dropped (fig. 58) . 

Equally serious is the "cracking under the strain" of small and 
inconspicuous mountain meadows ranging upward in size from 5 
acres or less. Many of these in their primeval state were charac- 
terized by rivulets bordered by willows and grassy glades. Here, as 
in the big valleys, overgrazing was followed by thinning of sod, 
killing out of the willows, cutting of gullies, lowering of the water 
table, and drying of soil. 



In appraising the significance of similar examples, which abound 
throughout the West, one who has reviewed the imposing array of 
evidence, locality by locality, states the conviction that serious range 
erosion in the Southwest followed close on the heels of excessive 
grazing by big herds on key areas (##). "The coincidence between 
the introduction of large numbers of stock and the cutting of ar- 
royos indicates that overgrazing precipitated this form of destruc- 
tive erosion" ($3). And, in both the intermountain and southwest- 
ern regions, depletion and modification of plant cover incident to and 
following settlement and livestock ranching may be regarded as a 
probable cause of much subsequent erosion of valleys and mountain 
meadows, according to various geologists as well as foresters and 


Long-continued overstocking of the valley range on the right has resulted in the disap- 
pearance of the valuable saltbrush still abundant on the protected range across the 
fence, a thinning of sod, and an increase in small worthless shrubs. The net result 
is greatly reduced grazing capacity. 

range technicians (10, 51, 62). The net result of overgrazing caused 
by poor distribution of stock has been the same, in varying degree, 
on thousands of valleys and mountain meadows throughout the West. 


Prohibited on the national-forest grazing grounds and the more 
closely supervised privately owned ranges, excessive use of sheep 
bed grounds and camps is still prevalent on unregulated portions 
of the public domain and on many private ranges, more particu- 
larly those of absentee owners, in spite of the fact that its evils have 
been quite apparent for over a third of a century (38, 1^8). The usual 
explanation is that the herding of sheep is somewhat easier from 
semipermanent camps, the use of which reduces the inconvenience 
of moving camp every 3 days, or oftener. Too frequently, there- 
fore, the tendency has been to use the same camp for many nights 


in succession, trailing the bands of sheep back and forth between 
the overused bed ground (adjacent to camp) and the outlying feed. 
In consequence, before the camp is finally moved, the bed ground and 
a needlessly large surrounding area has been severely trampled and 
grazed in extreme cases even partially denuded, with the result- 
ant loss not only of grazing capacity but also of much valuable 
topsoil from areas "grazed into the ground" year after year. 

Much range damage also has been caused by closely massed herds 
of hurried jostling animals forced to graze in crowded compact 
bunches. With close herding feed is wasted through unavoidable 
trampling, and strain is increased on key portions of the range 
which usually are most in need of protection. To this extent close 
herding leads to the same evils as prolonged use of bed grounds. 

Furthermore, unnecessary trailing by either sheep or cattle has 
caused great wear and tear on the soil-binding plant cover of swales 
and valleys. In little paths or trails the grass wears through to the 
soil. Down the deepening trails the water "first crept, then ran, and 
finally tore * * *" until great washes were formed the gullies 
and arroyos which have seamed and scarred the western ranges in 
every direction. 


An insufficiency of stock waters, a condition found on much of 
the semiarid western grazing grounds (13), leads to excessive tram- 
pling about the water and increased trailing between water and feed 
(139). The destructive effect on the range is illustrated by condi- 
tions around a well in Millard County, Utah, on winter range where 
watering places were too far apart. Excessive numbers of sheep 
had been watered here for 8 years. Within a radius of 1,000 feet 
only 4.3 percent as much grass remains as on similar range 15,000 feet 
distant. Even within a 2,000- foot radius the forage has been reduced 
to about one-sixth of that on the more distant range, and the highly 
palatable plants have been obliterated. 

As a result of depletion in its various aspects not only has the 
plant cover around this watering place been made much thinner 
and the soil exposed to wind and water erosion, but the vigorous 
invasion of low-quality forage plants on the desert subjects the 
valuable plants to such severe competition for moisture as to render 
the establishment of young plants difficult in the last extreme. 
Without reasonable reproduction it is only a matter of a few years 
until the best forage in this type becomes practically extinct (136). 


The pounding of overgrazed spots is aggravated by obsolete salt- 
ing practices, because salting only at the watering places, or in 
other places where stock are likely to "bunch up", nullifies any pos- 
sibility of attracting cattle into areas of unused or lightly used 
forage. Experimental work, careful observations, and studies of 
existing practices of progressive stockmen on national forests and 
many private ranges have pointed out that salt is a "cheap cowboy." 
Systematic salting can be used to lessen undue bunching and over- 
grazing on areas where the animals tend to congregate (32, 39, 79) . 


To the degree to which no advantage has been taken of this pro- 
gressive handling measure for effecting proper distribution of stock, 
inadequate salting practices have contributed their share to range 


Too early spring grazing on mountain ranges, another cause of 
local rang depreciation, is an outgrowth of the insufficiency of 
spring range adjoining mountain communities, such as the Spanish- 
American settlements clustered around the base of the Sangre de 
Christo Mountains of northern New Mexico, and many others. In 
the early spring the stockmen, confronted with exhaustion of winter 
forage, with a limited ability to obtain more supplemental feed, 
and often the necessity to move stock off the home ranch stubble- 
fields and meadows in time for plowing and irrigating, have been 
insistent on turning stock into the high mountain areas as soon as 
the first green grass appeared in the wake of the receding snow 
banks. How to bridge this gap in the feed supply still remains an 
exceedingly difficult problem shared by national-forest adminis- 
trators and by hundreds of stockmen throughout the West. Illus- 
trative of this difficulty is the fact that proper seasonal use still 
needs to be brought about on approximately 12 percent of the 9,000 
grazing units on national-forest ranges. 

To the individual operator, the risk of range injury, if considered 
at all, usually has been regarded as outweighed by the economic 
necessity. That early spring injury has been occurring for years 
on years, however, is shown among others by results of studies in 
Utah (116), in Colorado (65), and in North Dakota (119), as well 
as by much general observation elsewhere through the West. When 
cattle are allowed to "follow the snow" and forage is cropped "as 
soon as it pokes its nose out of the ground" no plant factory is left 
to manufacture food to replace that gradually sapped from the 
scant supplies still stored in the roots in spring. Further injury to 
both plants and range results from trampling of saturated soils. 

It is of especial interest to note that the detrimental effects of 
summer invasions of Montana winter range by herds and flocks 
another example of improper season of use was referred to, as 
early as 1900, as "the denuding summer pasturing" (Ifl). 

Risk of damage to range and loss of condition of animals also is 
usually incurred in any attempt to graze short-season ranges for a 
longer period. For example, on certain California foothills, chiefly 
valuable for fall, winter, and spring grazing, the short-lived annual 
forage dries to a crisp in May, and during the long practically rain- 
less summer provides an unsatisfactory ration deficient in vitamin A 
(68), and certain minerals, particularly calcium and phosphorous 
a deficiency usually associated also with low protein (67). If such 
ranges are grazed yearlong not only is it usually necessary to sup- 
plement them to prevent serious loss in animal condition; but, in 
addition, little or no old grass remains on the "slicked-off slopes" 
at the beginning of the fall rains, to retard erosion. 

Full-season use of the browse ranges of southwestern Utah areas 
better adapted to late spring and fall grazing is followed by a 

6494636 13 


gradually diminishing stand of the most palatable bushes (53) 
another illustration of grazing at the wrong time of year. 

The time of grazing has much to do with livestock damage to 
timber on the Coconino Plateau of Northern Arizona, according 
to studies of the Southwestern Forest and Range Experiment Sta- 
tion. Most of the grazing injury from browsing of terminal shoots 
of ponderosa pine "reproduction" 16 occurs when the proportion of 
succulent forage is smallest. This condition exists each year during 
two dry seasons, the first from the opening of the grazing period 
about June 1 to the beginning of the summer rains in early July, 
and the second and shorter period extending from about the first 
of October to the end of the grazing season. Lack of proper consid- 
eration of the amount of succulent forage available during these 
critical dry periods has been the principal cause of damage to the 
regenerating forest. This appears to be even a more important 
cause than shortage or poor distribution of water. 


Local failure to allocate ranges to the class of stock to which they 
are best suited reacts unfavorably on both stock and range. Illustra- 
tions of such maladjustments, as they affect ranges, include (1) plac- 
ing cattle on ranges so rocky and rugged that animals become foot- 
sore, calf crops are reduced, and the most accessible areas are 
overgrazed (79) ; and (2) vainly attempting to get full utilization 
with cattle of ranges supplied with sufficient water for sheep but 
not enough for cattle. 

Sheep, for example, require water less frequently than cattle 17 
(75), and consequently can travel farther between feed and water. 
From the standpoint of forage alone, full stocking of such areas 
with cattle is inevitably reflected in enlargement of the trampled- 
out areas around water, increased soil washing, and reduced grazing 
capacity the same chain of destructive results discussed in detail in 
foregoing paragraphs. 

Placing both cattle and sheep on the same range usually is equiva- 
lent to double use, with its attendant evils. The principle of this 
so-called "common use" originated from the belief that full utiliza- 
tion of all the forage (maximum grazing capacity) could best be 
attained by grazing on the same range two or more classes of live- 
stock in numbers corresponding to the quantity of forage that could 
be used by each class. On numerous ranges where all conditions 
have been favorable, common use has worked (79). In too many 
instances in actual practice the attempt at common use has cul- 
minated in double use and in overgrazing in varying degree. To 
just that degree the practice, as it concerns domestic livestock, has 
proved injurious. 

Dual use by domestic livestock and game likewise requires planned 
regulation to avoid detrimental overuse. In general, there is ample 
summer range on western forests for present numbers of game ani- 
mals, and in most cases for increases, without conflict with domestic 
livestock (15 h pp. 527-554). A general deficiency exists, however, 

16 Small trees between the seedling and sapling stages. 

17 United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. Report of the District 
Investigate Committee, District 3. 134 pp. 1930. [Mimeographed.] 


in winter range, which includes several million acres of public 
domain, a large but unknown acreage of privately owned wild land, 
and the lower fringes of national forests, national parks, and State 
parks. Much of this winter range for deer, elk, and antelope is 
badly overgrazed (14$) , the results being similar to those caused by 
livestock alone. The spectacular examples that have aroused 
national interest and concern, illustrate the problems. 

The deer herd on the Kaibab National Forest in Arizona increased 
so rapidly with complete protection that within 5 years after the 
peak had been reached about 1924 18 , and despite a heavy reduction 
in livestock, the productive capacity of much of the winter range 
had dwindled to 5 or 10 percent of the normal forage supply (15^ 
pp. 489^525). 

The second example concerns the Sun River elk herd on the 
Lewis and Clark National Forest in Montana, which reached an 
estimated total of 4,600 in 1930, with available winter range badly 
overgrazed. Severe winters, hunting, and other causes have re- 
duced the total to about 3,000 head; but, in spite of a reduction of 
78 percent of the domestic livestock on the area, further adjustments 
must still be made to halt the damage. 


Any painstaking analysis of the vexing problem of burning and 
forage production on the so-called "brush ranges" of the West re- 
veals two major causes: (1) Local confusion and even misunder- 
standing because of lack of accepted facts on critical phases of the 
problem; and (2) the occasional inevitable clash of two schools of 
thought. One group includes some stockmen and others who are 
faced with the problems of making a living off the range land and 
have only a mild or secondary interest and concern in its public 
values. Perpetuation of the basic resources, however, is the obliga- 
tion of other groups. Quite sincere differences of individual and 
group opinion are thus involved. 

Whether to burn chamise and chaparral lands in California, for 
example, is a question that has received much general empirical 
study and observation, supplemented on certain points by detailed 
studies, chiefly by A. W. Sampson, of the University of California. 
As temporary advantages of burning "brush" lands, the findings 
of these studies include, among others, a usual increase in volume 
of forage and a longer period of succulence for the first year and 
to a lesser extent during the second year after the fire. Proponents 
of burning consequently minimize the disadvantages, taking the 
position that the increase in forage more than compensates for any 
injury to the range resource. 

As an offsetting detrimental finding, however, the increased 
amount of forage on "burns" is not only very temporary but it is 
usually obtained through the barter of fertile soil ; for soil erosion 
is increased by burning on the steeper, rougher areas. For these 
reasons, conservation groups and administrators charged with main- 
taining productivity of these lands, most of which are included in 

18 Mann, W. G., and Locke, S. B. The Kaibab Deer, a Brief History and Recent 
Developments. U. S. Dept. Agr. 67 pp., illus. 1931. [Mimeographed.] 


important watersheds, hold the view that on most areas serious in- 
jury to the range soil, to the watersheds, and to other public and 
long-time values outweighs the temporary value of the increased 

With reference to sagebrush ranges, observations by Pickford 
(104) in the Intermountain Region, indicated that promiscuous 
burning followed by unregulated grazing tends to deplete the stand 
of perennial grasses and to allow inferior annual grasses to increase 
in abundance. 

The further point should be made clear that many stockmen 
apply the term "brush range" not only to the chaparral-covered 
foothills or to sagebrush plains, but also to ranges in the ponderosa 
pine type in which young timber has crowded out livestock forage 
in varying degree. In order to hold and increase the area available 
for grazing, stockmen occasionally have favored burning of such 
commercial timberlands. The damage resulting from such a prac- 
tice is great. 

In mature timber not only is there a large direct loss in volume 
but subsequent loss results from decreased growth and from fungous 
and insect damage (129). A more serious result from the burning 
of cut-over lands is the progressive destruction of both small and 
established tree seedlings and the "taking over" of large areas by 
dense stands of worthless brush. For example, of 13.6 million acres 
comprising the largest part of the California pine region, 1.9 million 
acres of potential timber land are now brush fields resulting from 
fires (128). 

And of even more far-reaching importance is the fact that re- 
peated burning of mountain timberlands enormously increases ero- 
sion of the fertile topsoil, a fact demonstrated by the California 
Forest and Range Experiment Station and other agencies. As an 
illustration, based on actual measurements from experimental plots in 
one locality, run-off from bare burned soil was shown to be 3 to 30 
times greater than that from adjacent forest-covered soil; and the 
erosion 100 to 1,000 times greater, the higher rates coinciding with 
higher intensities of rainfall. 


The foregoing factors in depletion resulting from rule-of-thumb 
management have brought about sadly reduced forage values in all 
parts of the West. Fully half of the western range area, according 
to recent estimates, is now characterized by severe or extreme deple- 
tion as given in detail on page 114 and summarized in figure 59. For 
example, on open desert ranges in Nevada forage attains only 49 
percent of its former value; in Utah, 36 percent; and in the Red 
Desert of Wyoming, 43 percent of that in the remnants of protected 
range that are still left, as shown by surveys made by the Inter- 
mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. Moreover, even 
the protected fragments are thought to be less productive than was 
the virgin range. This depletion is recognized by resident stockmen 
who have operated 20 to 50 years on one or the other of these three 
range units. The older range users have estimated reductions of 
20 to 80 percent from the original condition, the amount of their 
estimated reductions corresponding in general to the time they have 



used the range. The story is similar in various other types of west- 
ern range. 

Such heavy reductions in forage values constitute a heavy blow 
to the grazing industry, because the salt-desert-shrub type is the 
principal winter range over extensive areas in the intermountain 
region. Even in their depleted condition, these desert ranges sup- 
port nearly 2 million sheep from 4 to 6 winter months in Utah ; more 
than a million use them for 3 to 5 months in central Nevada; and 
probably 2 million use them for 3 to 5 months in Wyoming and 

How much of the present alarming condition may fairly be 
charged to the rule-of -thumb basis of attempted management, and 
how much to drought and other causes? Adverse climate has peri- 




(0-25 %) 

(26-50 ^o) 

(51 - 75 <7o) 

(76 + <7o) 





10 20 30 40 5C 


Less than one-seventh Is still in comparatively satisfactory condition, and this portion is 
more than outweighed by the area on which most of the values have been lost. 

odically been a potent contributing factor in the temporary depre- 
ciation of many range areas; for, as earlier explained, climatic fluc- 
tuations affect in pronounced degree both range forage and pro- 
ductivity. Drought reflected in a reduced forage crop quickly con- 
verts what is normally a proper stocking into excessive stocking, and 
intensifies the damage to ranges already too heavily stocked. But 
this depletion due to drought alone is only temporary, as explained 
in a foregoing section ; for drought-stricken ranges recover following 
the return of favorable growing conditions unless the drought is 
accompanied (as in recent years it almost invariably has been) by 
excessive stocking or other bad practices. So, in the long run, it is 
these rule-of-thumb practices not climate which cause ranges to 
break down. 

This conclusion is further strengthened by the especially signifi- 
cant fact that range depletion is rather closely tied in with the class 


of land ownership, range deterioration being generally greatest on 
unregulated, publicly owned lands as well as on the majority of 
those privately owned ; and least on publicly owned areas under reg- 
ulation and on the notable exceptions of well-managed private hold- 
ings. This is not surprising for, as explained later on in this 
chapter, financial difficulties brought about by overcapitalization, 
onerous credit facilities, and unstable and fluctuating markets have 
contributed in no small way to poor husbandry, range exploitation, 
and the inevitable consequence range depletion, on free public range 
and most privately owned range. 

Most depletion, then, results directly from overgrazing, which in 
turn has its origin in defective range -management practices as just 
explained. The exact amount of depletion properly attributable to 
these rule-of -thumb practices cannot of course be accurately weighed, 
but the contrast between the most depleted classes of land and those 
least depleted affords a rough approximation of the net contribu- 
tion of rule-of -thumb practices to range deterioration. 


The evil effects on western ranges from all injurious forces com- 
bined, have just been outlined. In considering even briefly the wide- 
spread damage one naturally wonders : "Why did it all come about?" 
Back of this question lie explanations of peculiar interest in them- 
selves, reflecting as they do certain pioneer pages of western history 
that have passed. Of more immediate importance, however, is the 
help that the underlying reasons offer in planning how to recapture 
the disappearing values. Why, then, have many stockmen continued 
practices that tend to wreck the basis of the industry on which they 
are dependent? 

During the early pioneer years at least, it is doubtful whether 
any appreciable concern was felt regarding the possibility of dam- 
aging the range. Later, as competition for forage tightened, along 
with the conflicts between sheep and cattle and between stockmen 
and "nesters", the dominant effort of most stockmen to gain or 
retain control of the range overshadowed any thought of resultant 
damage, and led even at times to the malicious "trampling into dust" 
of areas of feed, to drive back crowding neighbors, or in retaliation. 
No responsibility was felt for preserving the ranges for the future. 
As Barnes (14) points out, it was all free, open grazing; Uncle 
Sam owned it, and "it was a clear case of first come first served 
and the devil take the hindmost" virtually the motto of that period. 
And, permeating each and every chapter of the story of the range 
even to the present maximum immediate profit rather than main- 
tained range productivity usually has been the accepted individual 
aim. Proper management may also be hindered by local conditions. 
For example, stockmen using the unregulated public domain, are 
still to a considerable degree, forced deliberately to overgraze the 
range in order to discourage competition. 

Moreover, vastness of open range and abundance of forage at 
time of first settlement discounted any need for concern. Perhaps, 
however, in the words of Barnes : 

The stockmen of those pioneer days should not be held to too strict an 
accountability for their range practices. It was all a new proposition to them. 



Few of them knew the first rudiments of forage growth or plant requirements. 
They mostly grew up with the pioneer idea that when the feed in a certain 
region was gone there was more "over the range" to which they could move 
their herds and flocks. 

In a surprisingly large number of instances stockmen did not real- 
ize the wide differences in range-plant palatability a vital founda- 
tion stone of safe grazing capacity. When all the choice range had 
been taken up and overstocking and other rule-of -thumb practices, 
together with drought, began to take their combined toll, range 
depletion continued without any general realization on the part of 
stockmen that the range could not withstand the severe treatment 
indefinitely. Most of them failed to take into account the penalty 
of guessing at grazing capacity and the forage-crop ups and downs 
resulting from climatic fluctuations. 

The delicate balance between climate and vegetation was com- 
pletely unknown to stockmen and the interested public, and both 
were lulled into a false sense of resource security. Therefore, when 
unexpected drought set the stage for range break-down, the attend- 
ant livestock losses were bemoaned, but complacent faith was, and 
still is pinned to perhaps the greatest fallacy in range land the 
far-too-prevalent belief that "one good rainy year will bring the 
ranges back." Studies to date indicate precisely the contrary result 
in many western range types where the important forage plants are 
dependent upon seed for their perpetuation. A convincing illus- 
tration of the slow recovery of bunchgrass types is furnished by 
Forest Service records from 1912 to 1935 from 50 quadrats on Ari- 
zona pine ranges that were overgrazed when established. None of 
these regained maximum forage density in 12 years under fence and 
four-fifths of them had not entirely recovered after 21 years of 

Then, too, much range damage in its early and often obscure 
stages occurred undetected, because the average stockman, in most 
ways a keen observer, was not looking for it. Moreover, in many 
places the first danger signs, such as incipient erosion and a slight 
increase in inferior range weeds, were not always reflected imme- 
diately in livestock condition. Finally, there was a lack of deple- 
tion "yardsticks" criteria by which the significance of these first 
changes could be understood. 

Locally, observant stockmen, of course, did realize the full import 
of these changes and r long time ago. The secretary of the Cali- 
fornia Wool Growers' Association, for example, in writing in 1863 
of conditions in that State (101) alluded to sheep ranges: 

Where the lands have been so persistently overstocked [that] the herbage 
has necessarily become thinner and thinner * * *. This process of depas- 
turage, though not confined to any one species of herbage, is most strikingly 
exhibited in the great oat ranges. * * * This system of stocking the graz- 
ing lands must ultimately result in their entire depasturage. * * * 

Thus a note of alarm regarding overstocking and range decline in 
one region, the Pacific coast, was sounded from within the livestock 
industry itself nearly three-quarters of a century ago. 

Even when recognized, damage has frequently been tolerated by 
private owners because of economic pressure, including such policies 
as the deliberate holding over of excess numbers of animals for 
another year because of poor markets; taking a chance on a little 


range damage in order to save money on costly feed; and pushing 
herds onto mountain ranges too early in the spring before the range 
was ready for grazing. Locally, many national-forest range areas 
likewise have suffered through attempts to relieve temporarily the 
strain on the local stockmen and local communities, in response to 
strong pressure during emergency periods of feed scarcity ; and from 
the added strain of increasing livestock in an effort to increase meat 
production in 1918. 

Finally, in a review of the reasons underlying past range practices, 
one must keep in mind that the pioneer stockman was forced to 
improvise untried rules. Previous husbandry developed in eastern 
agriculture on comparatively small areas, with more uniform forage 
types, and more gentle stock under fenced control fell flat when it- 
came to handling sheep in bands as large as 3,000 head (98) ; tens 
of thousands of cattle in single ownership, and in at least one 
instance the almost incredible total of 150,000 head (US). Both 
classes of stock had to be handled over ranges extending from the 
smooth to the inaccessibly rough and from sea level to elevations 
above 12,000 feet, characterized by wide extremes of climate, and 
supporting hundreds of strange forage plants. New complex situa- 
tions had to be met, and promptly. Rule-of -thumb methods quite 
naturally were resorted to by stockmen, and to some extent have been 
retained by public-land administrators in the absence of sufficient 
proved facts. 

Even had more tested experimental results been available, a lag in 
their application was perhaps inevitable, especially on the part of 
the pioneer who, in the main, was the sturdy confident type that 
pushed back frontiers. One must keep in mind that the isolation, 
uncertainties, and emergencies of those times fostered reliance on 
independent judgment by early ranchmen, naturally a highly inde- 
pendent class who preferred opinion or practical experience to 
outside counsel regarding the conduct of their business. Conse- 
quently, within the industry itself there has not been any general 
appreciation of the value of tested information in meeting the 
changing western conditions. From this viewpoint the grazing 
industry stands in sharp contrast to farming with its sustained 
emphasis on research as a highly useful adjunct to practical manage- 
ment. Thus the lag in range research also may be regarded as one 
of the major reasons for the long-continued use of many rule-of- 
thumb practices. Because of its importance it is discussed in a sepa- 
rate section of this report. 


By M. W. TALBOT, Senior Forest Ecologist, California Forest and Range Experi- 
ment Station, and E. C. CRAFTS, Assistant Forest Ecologist, Southwestern 
Forest and Range Experiment Station 

Management of western ranges with their intricate and variable 
pattern of conditions and their interlocking private and public values 
is not an easy job. Livestock forage is not their only crop. They 
possess, in addition, important watershed, wildlife, recreational, and 
timber values. To keep pace with rapidly changing conditions 
western range management already requires, in addition to the con- 
tribution of sound practical experience, much detailed knowledge 
not yet available. Yet, as previously pointed out, interest in basic 
fact finding has lagged far more on range problems than, for in- 
stance, on farming problems. As the men charged with range ad- 
ministration began building up the system of regulated grazing on 
public range lands, the incentive for digging out new needed facts 
had to come chiefly from land-managing conservation groups. Con- 
sequently, the realization of the need for range research has devel- 
oped slowly. 


Research on problems concerned with rrnge land use thus far un- 
dertaken in the United States may be appraised by discussing briefly 
duration of the work, character of investigations and agencies en- 
gaged, expenditures, number of workers, and application of results 
in range extension. 


The United States was one of the first countries to undertake re- 
search on range-land problems. Investigations by Federal and State 
agencies began about 1900, 'and by 1910 eight State agricultural ex- 
periment stations had each pioneered one or two projects. In 1907 
the Forest Service initiated range investigations in connection with 
administration of the national forests and in 1910 established the 
Office of Grazing Studies. Twenty-five years earlier, however, when 
the great cattle boom of the eighties was at its zenith there was an 
acute but unrecognized need for research results. Had the facts been 
known then concerning grazing capacity, seasonal use, and the eco- 
nomic consequences of range abuse, much of the disastrous deple- 
tion that began with the boom period and grew with succeeding ex- 
pansion, might have been avoided. Research started about a quarter 
of a century too late, and has never been on a scale commensurate 
with requirements. 

19 In preparing this section, reference was made to publications and unpublished records 
of the Department of Agriculture, the Forest Service, the Office of Experiment Stations, 
the Bureau of the Census, the Bureau of Animal Industry, the Bureau of Plant Industry, 
the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, and the Western States Extension Conferences. 




The Forest Service, charged with departmental responsibility for 
research on timbered and nontimbered ranges both within and with- 
out the national forests, is the only agency that has developed a 
comprehensive range-wide investigative program. Its work centers 
on the range resource itself and is only incidentally concerned with 
the handling of livestock. Emphasis has been on the determination 
of the principal forage plants, their growth habits and forage value, 
on range management, including natural revegetation and principles 
of grazing use, and on the relation of range use to watershed protec- 
tion. Some progress has also been made on the effects of grazing 
on forest reproduction, and on plant succession how vegetation is 
affected by grazing, drought, and other influences. 

Forest Service range research is now confined to a limited number 
of the important classes of range in five major regions in the West. 
It is urgently needed, and should be extended to all the principal 
classes and to the Pacific Northwest. 

Eight other Federal agencies, six in the Department of Agri- 
culture, either have cooperated with the Forest Service or have 
worked independently on the range problems within their jurisdic- 
tion. For example, the Bureau of Plant Industry in the early days 
investigated certain phases of range revegetation, and more recently 
has devoted increasing attention to pasture problems, development 
of forage crops, and plant breeding. The Bureau of Animal In- 
dustry has studied animal husbandry and poisonous plants; the 
Bureau of Agricultural Economics, cost of production, ranch organ- 
ization, and other range-land problems. The Biological Survey has 
studied wildlife; the Bureau of Entomology and Plant Quarantine, 
insect problems; and the Bureau of Chemistry and Soils, plant 
analyses and soil problems relating to range lands. The Bureau 
of the Census of the Department of Commerce has for many years 
collected statistical data on livestock, livestock products, pastures, 
forage crops, and farms and ranches. The Tariff Commission has 
conducted investigations of manufacturing costs and returns on such 
range products as wool and beef cattle. 

The State agricultural experiment stations in each of the 17 
Western States have individually undertaken some work on a variety 
of problems, centering on range management, animal husbandry, and 
economics. Limited research is under way at most of the 13 col- 
leges and universities that offer detailed work in grazing. The Car- 
negie Institution of Washington and the Boyce Thompson Insti- 
tute for Plant Eesearch have both investigated problems that bear 
directly or indirectly upon range vegetation. 

The research by all agencies for convenience of comparison may 
be arranged in three groups. The most effort has been expended 
in group 1, the least in group 3. None, however, has adequately met 
the needs of the problems. 



Group 1 

Group 2 

Group 3 

1. Eange management (systems 
of grazing, livestock distribu- 
tion, etc.). 
2. Range botany. 
3. Range animal husbandry 
(breeding, supplemental 
feeding, diseases, etc.). 
4. Range ecology (changes in 
range vegetation under va- 
rious influences and treat- 

1. Natural revegetation. 
2. Effect of grazing on forests. 
3. Range economics. 
4. Artificial reseeding. 
5. Nutritional value of range 
plants (including chemical 
analyses) . 
6. Watershed management. 

1. Grazing capacity. 
2. Range wildlife. 
3. Degree of utilization. 
4. Range soils. 
5. Range weather. 
6. Range entomology. 
7. Range plant breeding. 

Both the number of agencies engaged in research on range prob- 
lems and the number of range-research projects undertaken 90 by 
the Forest Service and 140 by the State agricultural experiment 
stations give a misleading impression of the amount of effective and 
lasting work performed. Many of the agencies are interested in only 
one or two local problems; and emphasis in their research, which is 
often empirical in character, depends to an appreciable extent upon 
individual initiative rather than upon a planned, coordinated investi- 
gative program. Many of the projects, particularly in the early 
days, were small part-time jobs for one man, requiring less than one 
man-year of work for completion, as, for example, the chemical 
analysis of a poisonous range plant. Moreover, a great deal of the 
first work was as much range extension as research, consisting in 
a large measure of experimental demonstrations designed to create 
among range land administrators and stockmen a better understand- 
ing of range problems and their important phases. A considerable 
portion of the early research, although of real value at the time, was 
empirical and extensive in character, and has been shown in the 
light of subsequent intensive investigations to have little application 
to present-day conditions except to solve local problems and to serve 
as background for future studies. Effective research, that compre- 
hensively attacks region-wide problems and determines urgently 
needed facts, is largely a development of the last decade. 

The Forest Service has effectively organized and coordinated its 
effort between various problems, lines of work, and range regions. 
It has recognized the national significance of range research and 
planned the comprehensive range-investigative program explained 
in detail later in this report. 


It has been estimated that 100 million dollars are spent annually 
on research in the United States. Nineteen million was spent by 
the Federal Government alone in 1933; of this, research on range 
problems in all their aspects, drew not over $175,000, or less than 
1 percent. An additional $75,000 was invested by State agricultural 
experiment stations. In 1900, range livestock was valued at approxi- 
mately 280 million dollars, but only a few hundred dollars of Federal 
funds were spent in range research proper. By 1930, the range- 
livestock value had increased to 770 million dollars, and about $130,- 
000 was expended in Federal range research, or about 0.02 percent. 
Contrast this with relative expenditures for research in some other 
agricultural industry such as poultry or dairying. In 1930, the value 



of range livestock exceeded the value of poultry raised by 120 mil- 
lion dollars and yet no more Federal money was spent for range 
research than for poultry research, all of which was essential. From 
1900 to 1930 the value of dairy products has consistently been from 
two to two and one-half times the value of range livestock. But 
during the same period Federal expenditures in dairy research have 
exceeded those for range research by 350 to 400 percent. Consider- 
ing the greatly increased values that have come from these dairy 
studies, no one would question the desirability of continuing or even 
expanding them. 

Federal expenditures in research on range problems are limited 
almost exclusively to the Department of Agriculture. 

From incomplete estimates, the value of range livestock and cor- 
responding Federal expenditures in range research expressed in 
dollars and percent of value are as given in table 29. 

TABLE 29. Comparison of livestock values and range research 1915-30 


Value of 

Expended for Fed- 
eral range research 


Value of 

Expended for Fed- 
eral range research 






$300, 000, 000 




$550, 000, 000 
770, 000, 000 

$100, 000 
130, 000 





There are probably less than 100 technical workers devoting their 
full time to research on range problems in the United States today. 
Because much of the work is not full time and varies greatly from 
year to year, it is impossible to estimate accurately the total man- 
years of work done in any calendar year. A generous estimate would 
be 125 man-years of work annually. The Forest Service performs 
about 45 of these man -years of work, other bureaus of the Depart- 
ment of Agriculture about 25, the State agricultural experiment sta- 
lions about 45, and the remaining 10 are scattered among colleges, 
universities, and other research agencies. 

Approximately 50 percent of these workers are engaged in research 
on conservation and management of the range forage resource, which 
includes investigations in range and watershed management, range 
reseeding, range botany, etc., 20 percent are in range-animal hus- 
bandry, 15 percent in range economics, largely at the State experi- 
ment stations, and the remaining 15 percent are distributed in the 
fields of range wildlife, range weather, range soils, and range 


Range extension is the making available to stockmen and range- 
land administrators by demonstrations, discussions, addresses, and 
publications the results of studies and experience. Although re- 
search on range land problems has been far from adequate, the re- 
sults that have been obtained have not been applied on the ground 
to their fullest possibilities. One main reason has been the lag in 


extension work which is the intervening step between research and 
the practical application of its findings. 

In the United States, range extension was to a large degree merged 
with research until about 1920, and was practically nonexistent as a 
distinct activity. Since 1923, when a definite range -extension pro- 
gram was first formulated, the extension services of the State agricul- 
tural colleges, cooperating with the State agricultural experiment 
stations and the United States Department of Agriculture, have re- 
ported a limited amount of work in each of the 11 Western States, 
principally in animal husbandry, rodent control, and improved graz- 
ing methods. Despite admirable results from the demonstrations 
and other work already performed, extension specialists attribute 
the pronounced lag in range extension primarily to (1) high cost 
of demonstrations, which in order to be effective involve compara- 
tively large areas and herds of sheep or cattle, and (2) inadequate 
control and administration of the unregulated public domain, result- 
ing in an indifferent attitude of many stockmen toward improved 
range methods. 



Studies undertaken to date, as thus outlined, have covered a rather 
wide scope and have contributed highly useful data ; but actually they 
represent a thoroughgoing attack on only a small fraction of urgent 
vexing questions that constantly arise to plague the stockmen and 
land administrator. Facts, clinched by convincing proof, on com- 
plex and controversial points are especially inadequate for correction 
of much range depletion. This serious lack of basic management in- 
formation applies over a surprisingly large sweep of problems 
relating to range plants, to animals, and to their environment. 

What are some of these challenging management problems of both 
public and privately owned grazing lands? A few examples will 
indicate how far research must still go to provide an adequate basis 
for their solution. 


General studies and observations on grazing capacity have for 
sometime been conducted throughout the West, but intensive studies 
have been started in only a few places and on a few kinds of range, 
and chiefly within the last decade years after their need was pain- 
fully apparent. As for other agencies, in the 17 western range 
States with their multitude of different forage types and varying 
management needs, only seven State agricultural experiment sta- 
tions (New Mexico, Arizona, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Cal- 
ifornia, and Washington) had published by 1920 results of grazing 
capacity studies. Even in 1930 (15) only two additional stations 
(Colorado and Texas) were undertaking even limited work in this 
field (155). 

Research on grazing capacity has not yet been conducted on many 
important western range types. 



Western grazing lands no longer are valued for their forage crops 
alone. In fact, on many areas, as will be made clear later in this 
report, forage values are far outweighed by watershed values which 
directly or indirectly affect big populations and enormous invest- 
ments in agricultural and urban facilities and industries. It is im- 
perative, therefore, that management of range lands that are also 
watershed lands take into account their future productivity not 
only of forage but also of usable water, the most valuable "crop" in 
many localities of the West. The objective on such lands is a type 
of management that so far as possible will harmonize grazing with 
watershed needs. 

Protection of watersheds, one of the primary reasons for the estab- 
lishment of the national forests, has been given special consideration 
by the Forest Service for 25 years and more. Noteworthy among 
the findings of studies and controlled experiments which have been 
conducted in several localities, is the further evidence, both vegeta- 
tional and geologic, of the influence of plant cover on surface run- 
off and abnormal erosion, in relation to grazing. Western ranges 
and watersheds, however, comprise a complex pattern of soil, topog- 
raphy, vegetation, and climate. Consequently, numerous phases of 
this big problem, so closely tied in with the welfare of western com- 
munities, remain unhandled. 

The local and national importance of these problems pertaining 
to forage-and-forest influences, discussed in detail later in this re- 
port, argues for the speedy gathering of a more adequate supply 
of measured facts. 


What are the most important range plants in the various grazing 
types and regions, evaluated as to their growth requirements, forage 
value, or response to climate? Nelson (93) has shown, in connec- 
tion with growth requirements and limits of resistance to grazing, 
that utilization of black grama in excess of 80 to 85 percent of the 
foliage at the end of the grazing season results in smaller forage 
crops in succeeding years. But what is safe closeness of use for 
many other important forage plants and types in other regions? 
Also, from the dual standpoint of animal nutrition and forage main- 
tenance, what is the proper season of range use, type by type ? And 
again, much observational information has been gathered throughout 
the West; but detailed data are available for only a few localities 
and a few sets of conditions. 

What is the exact effect of climate on forage plants and on forage 
yield? A relatively small amount of investigation at the South- 
western, Intermountain, and Northern Kocky Mountain Forest and 
Range Experiment Stations, the Arizona and New Mexico Agricul- 
tural Experiment Stations, and the Carnegie Institution of Wash- 
ington has yielded detailed data, but on only a mere fraction of the 
important range plants of the West. The species studied vary 
greatly in behavior ; what about the other equally important plants 
and their relation to range management ? Meager data and general 
observations of protected plots have further shown the wide fluctua- 
tion in forage yield and grazing damage between successive years, 



but the combined range damage from drought, overgrazing, and, 
locally, rodents has not been unscrambled and the causes separately 


What are the possibilities of successfully restoring the grazing 
and watershed-protective values of depleted ranges by artificial 
means when nature is too slow? The complete answer to this very 
practical question is not yet known. The opportunities offered for 
range revegetation by direct seeding or transplanting of native 
forage species or exotics have never been adequately explored. Still, 
the work already done in this field, with a limited number of plant 
species, indicates considerable promise under favorable conditions 
and has pointed out the need for more comprehensive testing. 

Success has been attained in numerous depleted mountain mead- 
ows. Obviously, however, species that are suited to high mountain 
areas on which precipitation is favorable are not generally adaptable 
to the more arid foothill and desert ranges at lower elevations. 
What forage plants can be established successfully on depleted por- 
tions of these semiarid grazing lands? What are the limitations in 
site, in time, and in cost '< What possibilities are there for improving 
species or strains of range plants? What are the practical tests for 
determining which treatment is most practicable: (1) Artificial re- 
vegetation, (2) natural restoration, or (3) a combination of the 
two? The Bureau of Plant Industry and the Forest Service the 
pioneers in this field, along with the several State agencies have 
shown that, within limits, artificial revegetation holds much prom- 
ise. But a maze of unsolved problems lies ahead. 


Only the merest start has been made on the complex problem of 
forage provision and management for game animals on livestock 
ranges. Wildlife management is just beginning to receive widespread 
attention from the research angle. As yet few studies have yielded 
a scientific basis for dealing with large numbers of both classes of 
animals. Meanwhile, local overgrazing of jointly used ranges con- 

Illustrative of the unsolved nature of problems in the wildlife 
field is the difference of opinion relative to rodents. Any attempt 
to evaluate rodents in relation to range at once raises the question : 
Are rodents beneficial or detrimental? Or, more specifically, are 
rodents, particularly pocket gophers, an essential factor in preserv- 
ing the proper plant cover on the range, or are they a factor in 
range depletion including erosion? Obviously, the questions have 
many angles and various answers, depending on the species of rodent, 
the kind of range, and other local conditions. Adequate factual 
information upon which to settle these questions is lacking. Uncer- 
tainty and local controversy have, of course, resulted. The greatest 
immediate need is additional research concerning the life histories 
of range rodents, the relations between burrowing animals and water- 
shed conservation, and the influences of burrowing animals upon the 
range vegetation. 



In shifting attention from range animals to the range itself, one 
encounters a widespread need for simple, usable measuring sticks 
of range condition. This need is especially surprising in view of 
the fact that considerable attention has been devoted quite logically 
to the old but still moot questions : What constitutes proper utiliza- 
tion? Or overgrazing? For certain types and plants, more par- 
ticularly on the national forests, fairly adequate indicators of range 
condition are available. In dealing with the less obvious conditions, 
however, and with unfamiliar vegetation types not yet studied in 
detail, size-ups of range condition lack uniformity, invite unrecog- 
nized damage, and may even become controversial and they are 
likely to so continue until more simple, usable measuring sticks, 
demonstrable on the ground, are available. Their development 
constitutes a real challenge to research. 


In addition to these examples of unsolved or partially solved 
problems, a long list of other important ones in such fields as forage 
values, range-plant moisture and other site requirements, range- 
plant breeding, range economics, soils, and range entomology are 
indicative of the scope of the research job ahead. A multitude of 
facts must be unearthed to answer such questions as: (1) How 
may western range condition be recognized and evaluated with 
greater certainty and simplicity? (2) How may range forage be 
most adequately improved and maintained and range soil safe- 
guarded? And (3) how may the range as a basic resource be 
handled to make its maximum contribution to social welfare? 


In essence, there are two and only two approaches to land- 
management policies and practices: (1) The slow evolution of rule- 
of -thumb large-scale trial-and-error experience, and (2) tested facts. 
The rule-of -thumb approach, by and large throughout the West, has 
failed thus far to develop management that has stood practical test 
as witnessed by the practically universal depletion. Research has 
been, and still is, woefully inadequate in furnishing proven facts to 
strengthen, where needed, a better factual basis of management. 
Many needed management facts have accumulated too slowly for 
maximum effectiveness; and on other problems, no studies have as 
yet been started. The meager yield of experimental results on 
obscure or controversial points has never caught up with the in- 
creasing need. The resultant lack of dependable information on 
especially complex problems has thus failed to provide a basis for 
curbing much continuing depletion, has retarded application of 
corrective measures on Federal lands, and has delayed extension 
efforts among private owners. 


By E. I. KOTOK, Director, California Forest and Range Experiment Station 

A number of financial handicaps faced by the range livestock pro- 
ducer have tended to prevent the most effective balance between 
capital investments, production costs, breeding herds, credit facili- 
ties, and marketing opportunities. Since a seriously unbalanced 
relationship adversely affects the opportunity for profit, and there- 
fore tends to affect the management of the range, an understanding 
of the handicaps is needed. 

The livestock producer has not been entirely a free agent to manip- 
ulate at will the elements that enter into production costs, nor has 
he been able to adjust these with the constant fluctuations in the 
market price of his ultimate salable product. This section will 
attempt to explain the ways in which financial factors largely be- 
yond the control of the producer have influenced business manage- 
ment and range practice, tending toward range depletion. 



The home ranch, the range, the breeding herds, and the other 
required improvements and facilities form the production plant of 
the livestock business. For continued and sustained returns these 
elements must be in balance with each other and with the salable 
annual output, otherwise potential profits may be converted to actual 

The percent of the total investment carried in lands, herds, im- 
provements, and facilities varies markedly from operator to oper- 
ator, but there are general and distinct regional differences and also 
characteristic variations between cattle and sheep outfits. These 
variations are considered as they influence profits, range-manage- 
ment practices, and range depletion. 

In table 30 trie percentage of the capital investment in each of the 
major inventory items is given. These are composite figures and 
represent approximations based on a series of studies conducted by 
the State agricultural experiment stations and the United States 
Department of Agriculture. The data available present difficulties 
in the segregation of the items and distinct limitations in making 
regional or periodic comparisons. The range livestock enterprise 
varies widely, from the farmers who have a few head of stock pro- 
viding a supplemental source of income, at one extreme, to the live- 
stock producer owning 50,000 sheep or 10,000 cattle on the other 
end of the scale. Obviously, summaries covering such vast differ- 
ences in size of units must either include all ranches in a region or 
must be carefully selected samples. Another difficulty is that con- 
tinuous records on the same sampled ranches do not cover an extended 
period of time; neither are the fluctuations in the commodity value 


6494636 14 



of the dollar considered in all studies. But even with these limita- 
tions, the significant trends between regions may be safely singled 

TABLE 30. Approximate percentages of capital investments in the livestock in- 
dustry in major items, for 6 regions 


Cattle outfits 

Sheep outfits 







1. Montana and North Dakota - 













2. Colorado, South Dakota, Wyoming, Ne- 
braska, Kansas 

3. Arizona and New Mexico 

4. Utah, Idaho, Nevada . 

5 California 

6. Washington, Oregon. .. 

The composite average indicates that somewhere near 50 percent 
of the capital investment in the cattle industry is in lands, 40 per- 
cent in herds, and 10 percent in improvements and facilities. In the 
more settled regions, where land prices are higher, the investment 
in lands is above this average. As shown in table 30, less than a 
third of the investments for Arizona and New Mexico is in lands 
and more than half in herds. In part this may be explained by the 
fact that this region includes extensive areas of public domain and 
national forests used for grazing. There is, however, in this region a 
correspondingly greater investment required for improvements which 
the livestock owner has been forced to build on the public range. 

For sheep the average percentage of investment in land varies from 
31 percent in the Southwest to 39 percent in the Pacific Northwest, 
and in herds from 50 percent in the Pacific Northwest to 56 percent 
in eastern Montana, North Dakota, and also in parts of the inland 

The important inferences that may be drawn from these data are 
that all through the range country, except in the Southwest, the cat- 
tleman has had to invest relatively more heavily in lands than the 
sheepman ; that Arizona and New Mexico producers have less invest- 
ment in lands and correspondingly higher percentages in herds for 
cattle than any of the other regions; that Utah, Idaho, and Nevada 
sheepmen have also a relatively low percent of investment in lands 
and a correspondingly higher percent in herds. 

The percent of the total investment in lands or in herds varies 
materially as the price of livestock goes up or down. While both 
lands and livestock have irregularly risen in unit price, the former 
has been more stable with a general upward trend and the latter 
has fluctuated within wide margins. This in effect means that if the 
figures in table 30 represent individual years when livestock unit 
prices were high, the percentage shown as invested in stock is rela- 
tively higher than it would be over a number of years. Most of the 
data are from studies conducted in 1927-28, when livestock^ prices 
were high, which means in effect that the actual percentage given as 
the investment in lands is lower than it would be over extended 
periods. The general rise in livestock unit prices and the periodic 
changes are illustrated by data given in tables 31 and 32. 



TABLE 31. Trend of range-cattle 'prices, in actual value per head, and in 
relative purchasing power of the dollar, 1867-1928 * 















18 12 

62 8 











18 89 























i U73). 

TABLE 82. Farm value per head of cattle and sheep in four western States, 

1932-34 1 











$19. 46 

$15. 88 

$18. 05 











Oregon . 














1 Matson, Palmer, and Haight. Practical Livestock Operations and Credits. Farm 
Credit Administration, Twelfth District, Federal Intermediate Credit Bank Data. 11 pp. 
1935. [Mimeographed.] 

These changes in livestock prices are reflected perceptibly in the 
total capitalized valuation of an enterprise and materially modify 
the percentage of the investment chargeable to the herds. For ex- 
ample the difference in inventory value as between 1922 and 1928 
for cattle as shown in table 31 would be an increase of 64 percent 
in the value of the herd. Table 32 illustrates this strikingly for even 
short periods. For example, inventory values in cattle decreased 
from 1932 to 1933 by 18 to 25 percent, whereas sheep inventories 
for the same period increased by approximately 33 percent. Saun- 
derson and Vmke's studies (121) further illustrate this point. The 
total investment per head of Montana range sheep and the ewe 
value per head are estimated in table 33. 

TABLE 33. Ratio of ewe value per head to total investment in lands, herds, 
etc., per head, Montana, 1890-1932 


Total in- 
per head 

Ewe value 
per head 

land, im- 
etc., value 
per head 

Ratio of 
ewe value 
to total 







2 95 





4 30 

2 85 

1 45 








5 60 

4 15 








1920.. . 

25 00 





32 00 

11 50 

20 50 








25 00 


20 00 



20 00 

3 50 

16 50 



The difference between total investment and ewe value as shown 
in column 3 of table 33 is an approximate index of the amount in- 
vested per animal in lands, improvements, and facilities. From this 
index figure it will be noted that investment per head for lands, 
improvements, and facilities is low and approximately constant up 
to 1910, with an index figure 1.45. In 1915, the index is about dou- 
bled, and from 1920 to 1930 the index rises sharply. From these 
indexes the conclusion may safely be drawn that the capital invest- 
ment per unit head in lands, improvements, and facilities has stead- 
ily mounted reaching a high peak in 1930. The ratios in the last 
column represent an approximate ratio of the investment in the 
breeding herd to the total investment in the enterprise, and indicate 
that the investment in the breeding herd has steadily declined from 
1890 to 1932. This basic relationship between the percentage in- 
vested in lands and the percentage invested in livestock is of utmost 
importance in determining final profits and also has played no small 
part in shaping range management practice much of it of a charac- 
ter detrimental to the range. 

Total investments illustrate the whole trend of overcapitalization, 
from a unit head investment of $3.75 in 1890 to a high of $32 in 
1925 and a drop to no less than $20 in 1932. 

From the standpoint of profits, the breeding herd, the basis of the 
salable crop, is of primary importance. Obviously, other things being 
equal, the producer who maintains the highest percentage of his 
capital investment in breeding stock will show the greatest returns. 
This fact is well illustrated by a number of studies. In Wyoming 
(168), "operators whose investment in cattle represented at least a 
third of their total investment were doing better financially than 
those operators who had less than one-third of their investment in 
cattle." In Utah (103) , "profits tended to decrease as the percentage 
of total investment represented by cattle decreased. * * * That 
ranch tends strongly to be profitable which has 25 percent or more 
of its total investment in cattle, and 35 to 45 percent is still more 

One of the great difficulties in maintaining this desirable ratio, 
favoring the highest relative investment in livestock, particularly 
when livestock valuation is high, is the scarcity and availability of 
reasonably priced range. Home-ranch and range-land prices have, 
during the past two decades, attained levels far beyond their possible 
earning capacity, and the stockman has thus been forced to invest 
far too much in high-priced land. Under these conditions, if he con- 
tinues to run the number of livestock that ranch and range should 
support adequately under normal conditions, he will inevitably find 
it difficult to show a fair profit on his investment, or he may even 
go in the red. He then resorts to a very tempting alternative which 
may temporarily establish a normal balance between investments in 
lands and investments in livestock, namely, he overstocks the ranch 
and range. For a short period this may bring more income and 
probable profits, but, if so, it is at the expense of the production 
capacity of the land. It is a form of exploitation which inevitably 
leads to range depletion. When this process has gone far enough 


he finds himself in a vicious circle. The depleted range, if stocking 
is not reduced, produces less pounds per animal or he is forced to 
buy more range or lease miore feed. This again destroys the eco- 
nomic balance he must maintain between breeding herds, invest- 
ments, and production possibilities. 

Even for the stockman who leases range the same processes operate 
where exorbitant and fictitious ranch and range land values are com- 
petitively established. On many of the western outfits prohibitive 
charges for leasing range have been the direct cause of overstocking, 
as the only means of maintaining reasonable unit-carrying costs of 
herds. The stockman, never assured of renewal, proceeded under 
these conditions to "mine" the forage crop in one season. 

All agriculture, as well as the livestock industry, has suffered 
severely from inflated land values, which become particularly bur- 
densome when crops must be sold in a depressed market. High land 
capitalization is further complicated by the fact that much ranch and 
range lands were purchased on partial-payment plans during periods 
of inflation and payments had to be met during periods of depressed 
prices, thus presenting a double burden of high carrying costs. 

To reduce high carrying costs of land when livestock prices are low 
overstocking is resorted to on the false assumption that losses may be 
reduced. In so doing losses may temporarily be averted or deferred, 
but finally the basic land resource may suffer to a degree where con- 
tinuance of a sustained profitable enterprise is not possible even when 
good markets again prevail. 

Inflated land values have thus increasingly put out of balance the 
percentage of the capital investment which should be carried in the 
herd, have reduced prospective profits, induced bad husbandry, and 
lastly, have been a major factor in overstocking and range depletion. 


It is in many instances impossible to make a direct comparison of 
the data found in the available detailed cost-of -operation studies. Not 
always have the same common denominators been used; allowances 
are sometimes made for contributed labor and interest on investment, 
but it is difficult to so segregate these that safe comparisons can be 

In a general way the items and amounts that enter into operating 
costs are reasonably well illustrated in information collected by the 
Federal Intermediate Credit Bank 20 as shown in tables 34 and 35. 
These represent data for 1934, a year of relative average high expense 
and low returns, and are reasonably representative for the 11 
western States. 

See footnote to table 32, p. 195. 


TABLE 34. Cost of grazing operation per unit head of sheep, 1984 

Expense items 

Types of lambing practice 

Types of operation 

Size of operation 


to late 









$1. 140 

$1. 168 

$0. 836 







Feed and range 

Carrying charges 

Total costs 










Detailed carrying charges: 




















Taxes and interest 

Auto expense 

Personal and insurance . 
Restocking (bucks, 


Loss and depreciation. _ 

TABLE 35. Cost of operation per unit head of cattle, 1934 

Expense items 










Feed and range 





Carrying charges 





Total costs 





Detailed carrying charges: 
Supplies.. . ...... 





Taxes and interest 





Auto expense 





Personal and insurance 





Restocking (bulls) 





Miscellaneous .... 




. 42 






All the items that constitute the cost of production and which must 
be met ordinarily by current annual cash outlays can be grouped 
conveniently into three classes labor, feed, and carrying charges. 
Of these, feed costs and that portion of the carrying charges directly 
related to the land, such as taxes, interest, or rentals for leased land, 
make up a substantial part of the total cost of operation. 

The cost of feed and forage may become a controlling factor in 
profits and influence to a large extent the development of range 
practices. It is important, therefore, to consider how the stockman 
gets his feed, what it costs, and how land and range management 
affect the feed supply, profits, and the enterprise itself. 

The western stockman obtains feed from owned or leased range 
lands, permitted use on national forests, free range on public do- 
main, and by raising or purchasing supplemental feeds. As stated, 
the carrying costs of the commensurable lands which must produce 
the wild forage and supplemental crop feeds, together with the cash 
outlay for producing or buying feeds or for leasing range, make up 
a substantial part of the whole cost of production. If these total 
feed costs are inordinately out of line, profits diminish materially. 
Feed frequently makes or breaks the stockman. 

Unfortunately, the stockman has never been quite sure of his feed 
sources. Even if he owns the land and has not abused it, there is no 


certainty what the ranch or range may produce in crops or forage 
for any given season. The vicissitudes of climate as a factor in 
forage production have already been described. The forage crop 
may vary from year to year; it may be wiped out by a drought or 
lessened considerably in expected amount through a cycle of dry 

The western stockman is just as much at the mercy of weather as 
any other crop farmer. Lack of rain, drying winds, low tempera- 
tures during growing seasons, all take their toll in forage produc- 
tion. Shortages in feed due to adverse climatic factors are in a 
measure largely unpredictable and uncontrollable. To meet these 
vagaries of climate, the prudent stockman, if he has the capital, 
must invest in reserve feed supplies and additional range to meet 
such emergencies. Otherwise he must meet the emergency in paying 
exorbitant prices for feed, or is forced to sell his stock far below the 
cost of production. 

When a cycle of favorable climatic years comes, the general 
tendency has been to increase breeding stock to the maximum. If, 
with these conditions, there is also a rise in prices for stock, compe- 
tition for range becomes active, land prices rise whether for pur- 
chase or lease and thus the coincidence of a favorable market and a 
good forage year may be vitiated by carrying costs of high-value 
land and high forage 'costs. 

Under adverse climatic conditions, even with depressed livestock 
prices, the very shortage of feed induces a strong competitive market 
for feed and range. Good or bad forage years, the stockman un- 
provided with reserve feed has laid himself open, so far as feed or 
forage is concerned, to a high competitive market and a correspond- 
ing increase in cost of production. 

These uncertainties as to availability of feed and its probable cost 
introduce a major factor of uncertainty and hazard in the entire en- 
terprise. They lead the producer to gamble for large gains whenever 
the opportunity arises; and maximum stocking during good feed 
years is the most tempting gamble, generally leading to range ex- 
ploitation. In time of drought the producer who has built up his 
operation by excessive stocking may find himself again in an acute 
situation, particularly as forage costs reach high levels. As stated 
by some observers (187), "judging from the history of the years 
1886-87 and 1919-20, the occurrence of a very poor year or a sue- 
cession of poor years usually means a crisis to many individual oper- 
ators because of high operating expenses and great death losses among 
cattle." This is confirmed by another study, 21 which states : "One hard 
winter or one severe drought may cause a heavier loss in 1 year 
than has been gained in several years by heavy stocking." 

The stockman tries to meet the severe financial stresses and strains 
that he is subjected to by reducing carrying costs per unit head. 
What are these possibilities for reduction in cost of production? 
Some carrying charges are almost immutably fixed, such as taxes and 
interest on indebtedness for land and stock. He may reduce labor 
costs, but these form but a fraction of the total expenditures. If he 
reduces labor too drastically, it may be at such a sacrifice in good 

a Parr and Klemmedson. An Economic Study of the Costs and Methods of Range Cattle 
Production in North Central Texas. U. S. Dept. Agr., Bur. Agr. Econ. Prelim. Kept. 40 
pp. 1925. [Mimeographed.] 


care of the stock, losses from predators and poisonous plants, reduc- 
tion in calf or lamb crop, and the poorer general condition and quality 
of the salable animals that these losses may be materially dispro- 
portionate to the gains made by decreased labor costs. He may reduce 
the amount of supplemental feed per animal, and here again it will 
be directly reflected in the condition of his herd. What he is likely 
to do as the easiest way out to reduce unit production cost per animal 
is to overstock his range. 

The condition of the livestock, the percentage of lamb or calf crop, 
are readily detected, and the stockman is reasonably well-informed on 
these matters. He prizes his breeding herd as the important part of 
the production plant. His interest in the range is, on the contrary, 
less evident. In the desire to keep carrying costs per unit-head low, 
he may hold too many stock on the range in a bad year, figuring that 
the next year may be favorable and the range will revive. He over- 
stocks in a good forage year because he is overenthusiastic about the 
range capacity by contrast with the poor year, and he also gambles 
that more good years must follow. The fact is forgotten or over- 
looked that the condition of the range is a major influence in the 
proper maintenance of the breeding herd and in the final increment 
of calf or lamb crop, which in the last analysis determines the ratio 
of income to cost of production. The effect of this is that on a very 
important part of his capital investment a process of attrition is 
initiated. This process frequently continues slowly, and is not per- 
ceptible to the owner or lessee of the range. He does not appreciate 
that it is cutting vitally into a part of his capital, just as important 
as the capital invested in the herd, and that ultimately it means an 
increase in the unit cost of production. Innumerable instances can 
be cited where land purchased on the basis of high grazing capacity, 
which might have been a good capital investment, because of abuse 
through overstocking was reduced to one-half or one-fifth of its 
original forage production and thus was converted into a poor invest- 
ment and brought about unduly high unit-production costs. Such 
methods mean higher unit costs for forage, if stocks are reduced to the 
commensurate availability of forage; or, if the original number of 
stock is maintained, the reduction in weight, quality, and offspring 
will increase unit costs. And to this must also be added an annual 
depreciation charge because of the depleted values in the range. 

If overstocking continues, the important forage plants slowly are 
reduced in number and some may even disappear. Pest plants and 
less desirable plants invade and immediately start their conquest of 
the range. If this overstocking should coincide with the prevalence 
of a dry cycle, not uncommon in the western range States, startlingly 
unfavorable changes become evident even to the most optimistic. 
Sheet and gulley erosion, disappearance of common perennial grasses, 
thin stands of annuals, closely cropped shrubs, increase in undesirable 
and poisonous plant species, disappearance of springs, and lowered 
water tables, are all signs that a range property has badly depre- 
ciated, and that one important leg of the capital structure in a given 
livestock enterprise has become shaky. 

When this stage is reached this part of the capital structure (the 
range) requires restorative treatment. Restoration of former forage 
values is a costly process requiring labor and cash outlay. But the 


first step in Lny positive curative process is the reduction or even total 
removal of stock. If depletion is not serious and is recognized early 
enough, reduction in numbers, more careful handling on the range, 
and care in preventing too early grazing may suffice and give nature 
an opportunity to heal the scars and renew vegetation. But depletion 
may reach a point where costly gully control, artificial reseeding, and 
grubbing of poisonous plants may be required, as well as reduction in 
numbers of stock grazed. Investments and improvements may be 
needed, such as development of new sources of water and fencing off 
the most seriously punished lands from all use. These costs may 
reach a figure of $5 per acre, an investment frequently more than the 
land can carry under private ownership. Whether the producer 
reduces the number of stock or makes further investments to restore 
the productivity of the range, the yearly carrying charges must be 
increased, and with it the unit cost of production. 

Unfortunately the stockman is rarely ready to apply the stiff 
remedy of reduction of stocking, even when he recognizes that the 
range is going back, and rarely able to make the otherwise necessary 
protective investments. Again he is caught in a vicious cycle, his 
depleted range produces poorer stock, smaller yields in calves and 
lambs, and higher losses. He delays as long as he can the reduction 
in stock and so the situation grows worse, or if he resorts to the pur- 
chase of more land, this again increases his investment in lands out 
of proportion with the investments in breeding herds and creates a 
corresponding increase in unit cost of production. 



In the past the livestock producer depended for his credits on pri- 
vate banks, loan associations, insurance companies, and occasionally 
on commission men. Since the World War, Federal banking facilities 
have become available, such as the War Finance Corporation, and 
more recently the Farm Credit Administration. 

Like all agriculture, the livestock industry has suffered in the past 
from lack of favorable credit facilities. Loans carried high interest 
rates and were extended only for short-term periods. With his larger 
investments, the individual stockman has found the usual credit terms 
even more onerous than has the crop farmer. Short-term loans might 
suffice for current operations, incurred indebtedness, and to carry over 
livestock held for a more favorable market. But if he desires to build 
up his herd, purchase more land, improve facilities, or construct essen- 
tial improvements on the range, long-term reasonably low interest- 
bearing loans are necessary. Excepting for land purchases, credits 
in the past for other needs have carried high interest rates, and rates 
of 9 to 10 percent were common. A study made by the Oregon 
Agricultural College (105) illustrates this difficulty. They found in 
1925 that 

There is a considerable variation in the interest rate * * * It is, of 
course, a fact that many of the banks charge 9 percent and 10 percent, and it is 
also a fact that the cattle-loan companies charge 9 percent to 9% percent or even 
10 percent interest. * * * It is unfortunately true, however, that the cattle 
and sheep industries are at the present time charged the highest rates of interest 
known in the commercial world. 


Under these conditions it is not surprising that many improvements 
needed to make more advantageous use of the forage were not under- 
taken and the range frequently suffered because of it. 

For a long period of time, banks, cattle-loan associations, and, more 
recently, even Federal banking agencies have based their loans largely 
on the number of livestock owned by the borrower, without much 
consideration as to other assets, availability of feed, or condition of 
the livestock. Some banks have refused to recognize that range land 
had any loan value. This trend has led indirectly to building up or 
holding more livestock than the range could carry so as to build up 
collateral for loans. Obviously, if the loan were made with adequate 
restrictions safeguarding the range, in the long run loans would be 
better secured, to the advantage of borrower and lender alike. Even 
the Federal banking agencies have failed to recognize the full import 
and need for care of the collateral existing in the range. In more 
recent loans through the Farm Credit Administration the grazing 
privileges on a national forest held by the borrower has been 
considered as an asset and valued as collateral. 

On the face of it this appears to give value to range even if not 
owned. This practice has been based on the theory that a national- 
forest permit is a negotiable asset, is revocable only for serious cause, 
and transferable under certain prescribed conditions. Such Federal 
loan agencies have also requested, in order to add security to the loan, 
a guarantee that the Forest Service would not make reductions in the 
number of stock for permits carrying loans. The Forest Service, 
among other reasons, has insisted and contends that to guarantee no 
reductions might defeat the integrity of the assets themselves if and 
when reductions in number of stock were necessary to safeguard the 
range. Dry cycles, producing adverse conditions and need for range 
rehabilitation may necessitate large and immediate reductions in live- 
stock grazed. Here again the fact that the production plant of the 
grazier consists of herds and range has been lost sight of. In the long 
run the best way to protect the loan and insure sustained profits to 
the borrower would be to insist that the range be given proper care, 
whether owned or leased. 

No continuous record of indebtedness carried per unit animal 
extending for a long period and covering a single region is available. 
The general evidence indicates that there was a steady but small 
increase in indebtedness per animal from 1880 to 1910 and that there- 
after the indebtedness increased sharply. One reason for mounting 
indebtedness is traceable in the extension of old loans which were not 
reduced in 20 years. 

Some examples of indebtedness may be given to show the amounts 
carried by the producer. In two studies made in Colorado (&, #5) 
in 1922-25 a total average indebtedness of $32,446 for 800 head of 
stock, or $40 per head, is reported in one instance, and in another a 
total average indebtedness of $33,200 against 1,016 cows, or $33 per 
cow. A study made in 1926 in New Mexico (174) reports an average 
total indebtedness of $27,552 against 1,224 animal units per ranch, or 
$23 per animal unit. 

Indebtednesses in the northern Great Plains region in 1924 are 
given in table 36 (187). 



TABLE 36. Indebtedness per ranch and per head of stock in the northern G\reat 

Plains region, 1924 


Stock per 

Cows per 

per ranch 

per head 
of stock 

for cattle 






















17, 035 






43, 611 



Iii this same study the average inventory value per head was 
placed at $39.71. Of the total indebtedness per head of livestock on 
the ranch it will be seen that the chattel mortgage forms but a small 
part of the total. 

The stockman started with small initial investments in lands and 
proceeded through a series of years to build up his herds to high 
numbers without encumbering himself with indebtedness. True, in 
severe years when losses both in calf and lamb crops and in breeding 
stock were abnormally high, he had to resort to whatever credit 
facilities were available to get a fresh start. Credit under such 
conditions was extended at almost usurious rates. 

The trend of easy credits, high interest rates, and their effect on the 
profits of the stockman is well illustrated in certain findings in 
Oregon (106) : 

Inadequate finances often lower the profits, * * * partly because the 
management is in the hands of the bank or loan company. * * * If the 
owner has an equity of 50 percent or more in the entire plant * * * he 
should be able to borrow the remainder at an interest rate of not over 7 
percent * * * if his equity is much less than 50 percent, he will probably 
have to pay 9- to 10-percent interest. * * * A 75-percent equity in a one- 
band outfit is much better than a 25-percent equity in three or four bands. 

A significant trend in finance and banking has been in operation 
in the past 20 years and has contributed to increase average indebted- 
ness. As working capital in all banks accumulated, western bankers 
looking for outlets encouraged expansion in the livestock industry 
and made credits readily available. Loans were made for the pur- 
chase of lands and stock, and frequently to many persons unqualified 
for the undertaking. Stockmen could not resist the temptation to 
expand under such easy credits, even at high-interest rates. Fre- 
quently this led to the building up of herds beyond the safe capacity 
of the available range. In contrast to the easy credits of good times, 
credits were restricted during depressions when money was most 
needed. Insofar as the welfare of the range is concerned, the in- 
flexibility of credit facilities was one serious cause in keeping the 
number of stock out of balance with availability of range and was a 
contributing cause of overstocking and range depletion. 


Bankers who specialize in livestock loans developed certain points 
of view that reflected the attitude of the stockmen themselves. Some 
of the abuses in the form of inflexibility of credits, short-term char- 


acter of loans, and high interest rates were the result of causes out- 
side the immediate control of either the bankers or the stockmen. 
The livestock business grew up in the West as a highly speculative 
venture ; and having built up such a reputation, it had to pay exact- 
ing penalties when it was in the market for money. The crop the 
grazier produces takes a long time to mature. The amount and quality 
of the salable crop may shrink through unpredictable losses, and the 
final sale price may, from day to day, month to month, and year to 
year, have a wide spread, frequently falling below the cost of pro- 
duction. On the basis of these conditions, the banker has built up 
a system of livestock loans. His has been a short-term point of view, 
with inevitable high rates and inflexibility of credit. It really has 
amounted to a system of loans secured, not by a production plant, 
consisting of ranch, range, and livestock capable of producing an 
annual salable crop, but by a chattel mortgage on livestock. Little 
consideration has been given until recently to the possibilities of 
building up an industry on a sustained yield management concept, 
wherein the whole production plant, feed, forage, and stock are kept 
in balance and the vagaries of market and climate are partially 
counterbalanced by reserves in feed and credits. 

The banks and loan associations have done little in the past to dis- 
courage or eliminate bad husbandry. They have done little to en- 
courage management practices, and yet these are the real basis of 
profits in a livestock enterprise, the true measure of the security of 
the collateral, and the safety of the loan itself. At best it is difficult 
to ascertain the real assets of a livestock producer. In some instances 
loans have been made without even a count of the stock on the range 
and no appraisal of the value of the stock, the range, improvements, 
or capacity of the borrower as a livestock manager. Bankers have 
often forced liquidation of well-bred breeding stock on depressed 
markets, further lowering general prices and with practically no 
returns to the producer. Good business would often have dictated 
further loans to buy additional feed to carry the breeding herd over 
the depression. At other times banks have enforced holding stock 
until more favorable markets without supplying funds to buy ade- 
quate feed, leaving the producer one alternative, that of keeping more 
livestock than the range could safely carry, and with it the inevitable 
sequence, overstocking, range exploitation, and range depletion. 

Such myopic banking policies have not only contributed to the 
disruption of the livestock business but have also caused the closing 
of many banks that dealt in livestock loans in the West. 

There are, however, many signs of a favorable change and through 
the facilities of the Farm Credit Administration many of these 
abuses can be checked. Among the more important provisions of 
this new governmental agency which may go a long way to stabilize 
the industry and ultimately safeguard the range itself are the fol- 

1. Overexpansion discouraged (a) by requiring a sound ratio 
between all parts of the production plant; (b) by requiring reason- 
able margins in security offered as collateral. 

2. Longer periods of loans at much lower rates than were ever 
before available to the industry as a whole. 


3. Adequate showing of range and feed for the number of stock 
to be handled. 

4. An actual inventory, not only of stock, but range, feed, facili- 
ties, etc. 

5. A check on the moral risk of the borrower with the motto 
"The eyes of the master make fat cattle." 



The availability of favorable markets, with some degree of stabil- 
ity in prices for reasonable periods, is axiomatically the foundation 
for any self -sustained industry. The livestock producer has on the 
contrary never been sure of reasonably favorable market conditions 
where a stable price range was assured for any short period. 

As might be expected, the demand for the products of the western 
range increased with the growth of the Nation, and its outlets to 
markets have been facilitated tremendously with the extension of 
the western links of the American railroad system. Modern live- 
stock marketing is an outgrowth of the railroad and the cold-storage 
plant which has made possible the central stockyard systems and 
packing plant. From very simple marketing systems a complicated 
machinery of distribution has grown up between the ultimate con- 
sumer and livestock producer. 

At present, the producer has these means of disposal of his prod- 
uce the local butcher, a local buyer, individual shipment on con- 
signment in carload lots to a commission agent, and disposal through 
cooperative shipping associations. The local buyer may be an in- 
dividual speculator or represent a commission agent at some central 
market or a local butchering concern. 

^ The bulk of the salable livestock produced in the western range 
States must be marketed at central stockyards and packing points; 
local markets absorb but a small percentage of the total. The chief 
market is therefore at some distant point. 

Whichever method of marketing is used, the ultimate price the 
producer may receive is determined by forces entirely out of his 
control, which may have no relation to the cost of actual production. 

As one stockman has very aptly stated : 

It is fundamentally unsound to expect reasonable returns if a perishable 
product must be taken 1,000 miles to the appraisal of a fluctuating market from 
which there is no retreat. 

Once the stock is on its way to market, the seller is entirely at the 
mercy of the buyer. 

Price fluctuation is well illustrated in the average prices at the 
Chicago market for 5 years given in table 37. 

But prices fluctuate even in shorter periods of time. The periodic 
variations in prices illustrated in table 38 show the prices paid for 
lamb and beef steers by periodic averages for 1930-34 at the Chicago 
market. Thus we find a wide fluctuation both in yearly and even 
monthly prices. 



TABLE 37. Average prtees per 100 pounds for beef and lambs at the Chicago 

market, 1930-34 * 


Beef steers, 
1,100 to 1,300 

Lambs, 90 
Good, and 





8 92 

7 77 



6. 11 


5 69 

6 63 




i Bureau of Agricultural Economics statistics (153) and mimeographed reports for 1930-33. 

TABLE 88* Four monthly prices 1 for years 1930-34 to illustrate variation in 
monthly prices throughout year at Chicago market 2 

[Sources of data: See footnote to table 37] 






















January .. . _ 

$13. 77 

$12. 26 





$5. 15 






8 77 

8 72 

9 35 

7 31 

6 91 

5 33 









8. 16 








8 06 

8 94 

6 36 

7 47 

5 30 

5 55 




1 Beef, 1,100 to 1,300 pounds, Good; lambs, 90 pounds, Good and Choice. 

2 Based on means of daily range of quotations. 

What the producer ultimately receives, of course, depends on the 
selling price, influenced among other things by the class of stock he 
raises, the freight charges to market, and all the other miscellaneous 
handling costs from the shipping point to the slaughterhouse. As 
between regions, the market factor includes the freight differentials, 
the general class of stock produced in the region, and the season 
of marketing. 

Table 39 (152) is a 5-year average (1930-34) for prices received 
by producers, as of January 15 of each year. 

TABLE 39. Five-year average of prices received ~by producer per 100 pounds 










New Mexico 




4 52 

5 51 

















5 66 

6 76 







The maximum regional differences for beef in this period is $1.14 
per 100 pounds as between the California-Nevada price and that 
for Idaho, or about $14 per animal for a 1,200-pound steer. The 
maximum regional differences in lambs is $1.44 per 100 pounds as 
between Arizona and Oregon, or about $1 per animal. These major 
regional differences in final price received by producer on a parity 
basis of profits per animal can only be compensated for by corre- 
sponding reductions in actual costs of production. 


The inherent differences in the prices the producer may receive 
for the same class of stock from region to region cannot be entirely 
eliminated. But more serious problems confront the livestock pro- 
ducer in attempting to secure a fair return for his product. 

The uncertainty of price and lack of a free competitive market 
was early recognized. The exhaustive report of the Federal Trade 
Commission (165) covers this matter thoroughly. It shows that, 
up to 1919, five large packers held complete control of the market. 

The Packers and Stockyard Act of 1921, as a result of this inquiry, 
sought to regulate the business of the packers by preventing unfair 
discriminatory or deceptive practices. The chief evil it particularly 
aimed to curb as relating to the livestock producer, was the monopoly 
the packers enjoyed and which enabled them unduly and arbitrarily 
to lower prices to the shipper. It attempted to secure a free and 
unburdened flow of livestock from the West through the stockyards 
and slaughtering centers. In 1926, and again in 1935, the Packers 
and Stockyard Act of 1921 was further amended to eliminate other 
marketing abuses. 22 

The fluctuating in and uncertainty of prices has been the hazard- 
ous factor which in no small part has contributed to the instability 
of the livestock enterprise. But even under the most favorable con- 
ditions of open competition, price fluctuations from year to year 
may reach wide extremes. This may become particularly oppressive, 
because the producer has to make his cash outlays many years in 
advance of the marketing of his final product. If the gestation 
period is counted it takes, under very favorable practices, a year to 
produce a lamb for market, a year and a half for a baby beef, and for 
the usual market steer from western ranges at least 2% years. 

Even the growth of cold-storage facilities, which makes possible 
the evening out of supplies for consumption, does not show the ex- 
pected stabilization of prices to the producer. The producer is in 
a constant quandary what his product may bring. It is particularly 
disturbing because it not only affects his current salable produce but 
the produce which will reach market 2 years hence and for which 
investment outlays are being currently incurred. 

Ordinarily the producer is not a free agent to hold back sales 
awaiting a rising and more favorable market. Frequently, in order 
to meet current expenses, he must sell his stock in a most unfavorable 
market. If he does hold on, he often does so at the expense of the 
range because the hold-over stock are surpluses which ordinarily 
should have been moved. 

82 In the Stafford v. Wallacce case, no. 687691, an appeal of the enforcement of the 
Packers and Stockyard Act of 1921, Mr. Chief Justice Taft in rendering opinion of the 
Court stated : "The chief evil feared is the monopoly of the packers, enabling them unduly 
and arbitrarily to lower prices to the shipper who sells and unduly and arbitrarily to 
increase the price to the consumer who buys. Another evil which it sought to provide 
against by the act was exorbitant charges, duplication of commissions, deceptive practices 
in respect to prices, all made possible by collusion between the stockyards management 
and the commission men on the one hand, and the packers and dealers on the other. 
* The shipper whose livestock are being cared for and sold in the stockyards 
market is ordinarily not present at the sale, but is far away in the West. He is wholly 
dependent on the commission men." The Chief Justice in quoting the Swift & Go. v. 
United States (196 U. S. 375), states: "The Swift case presented to this Court the 
sufficiency of a bill of equity brought against substantially the same packing firms as those 
against whom this legislation is directed, charging them as a combination of dominant 
proportion of the dealers in fresh meat throughout the United States not to bid against 
each other in the livestock markets of the different States, to bid up prices for a few days 
in order to induce the cattlemen to send their stock to the stockyards, to fix prices at 
which they would sell, and to that end to restrict shipments of meat when necessary 
and all this in a conspiracy and single connected scheme to monopolize the 
supply and distribution of fresh meats throughout the United States." 


Depressed or glutted markets and slack sales often are the direct 
cause of overstocking. With restricted credits and short reserves in 
hay and other supplemental feeds that result from previous over- 
stocking, the only alternative has appeared to be to further stock 
the ranges, owned or leased, far beyond their capacity. The after- 
math of enforced hold-over has been range depletion. In holding 
down operating expenditures because of unfavorable markets and 
low prices, there is little latitude for the producer. His fixed costs 
remain constant, feed may even be proportionally higher than usual. 
He resorts to overstocking and hence range depletion as the easiest 
way out. 


In comparison with other agricultural crop farming, the livestock 
industry, over extended periods, has experienced as great or even 

freater fluctuations in returns on investments. Under the most 
avorable conditions profits have been exceedingly high. This has 
attracted new capital, induced overexpansion, and brought the evils 
that generally follow in the wake of overproduction. 

One major control on profits as between regions is the nearness 
to market as indicated, this differential may mean as much as $14 
per steer and $1 per lamb. To overcome this handicap the unfavor- 
able regions must possess other advantages, either in cheaper lands, 
cheaper forage, more favorable climate, or cheaper labor. 

Another control is the capital-investment relationship as between 
lands, herds, and improvements, and the unit size of operation. The 
breeding herds must be at a safe maximum that the range can sup- 
port without damaging it and that will still leave reserve feed for 
critical years. 

Still another factor is the size of the unit. This is well illustrated 
by data secured in many studies. Highest net returns in Utah (103) 
were reached by outfits having about 370 cattle. Records compiled" 
by the Intermediate Credit Bank, twelfth district, 23 in 1934 on 
3,520,000 cattle show greatest profit on outfits of 360 to 580 head. 
In Montana 24 400 to 500 head of cattle appeared to be the size of 
operation under which it was possible to approach maximum effi- 
ciency; and another estimate (120) stated that net income from 100 
head was $5, from 200 head $8, from 400 head $12, and that above 
400 the net income declined until the figure for 900 head was $9. 

For sheep the same general law of economic size applies, varying 
by regions. Utah figures (46) for size of outfits and percent of 
return are: 

Sheep: return 

230 to 1,000 9. 

1,001 to 2,000 13. 8 

2,001 to 3,000 17. 8 

Over 3,000 13.6 

Records compiled by Intermediate Credit Bank, twelfth district, 25 
in 1934 for over 9 million sheep show losses in cents per head as 
follows : 

23 See footnote to table 32, p. 195. 

34 Saunderson, M. H. Some Materials Relating to Livestock and Land Valuation. Mont. 
Agr. Expt. Sta., Dept. Agr. Econ. 23 pp., illus. 1935. [Mimeographed.] 
25 See footnote to table 32, p. 195. 


Outfit : Cent8 

More than 3 bands 73 

2 to 3 bands 73 

1 band or less - 86 

In Wyoming (169), in 1925, ranches having between 7,001 and 
8,000 ewes had a $9.49 return ; above this and below, progressively 
smaller returns. The smallest returns were $2.64 for outfits of 1,000 
and less and $2.68 for outfits with 9,000 and more. In Montana 
(121) it was found that from the standpoint of production organiza- 
tion the point of maximum efficiency in size could be realized at 3,600 
to 4,500 ewes. 

The hazardous features of the enterprises which affect profits and 
induce malpractices injurious to the range have already been re- 
viewed. The vicissitudes of climate may wipe out all profits for 
many years unless adequate reserve feed is maintained. Poisonous 
plants, animal diseases, predators, all take a toll that in bad years, 
on depleted range, may go beyond 10 percent of the total herd. Ir- 
regular prices, enforced hold-over, relatively high fixed costs, all 
affect profits adversely. 

In the final analysis profits for the man in the straight livestock 
business without other sources of income will depend on : 

1. A well-balanced outfit, as between capital investment in lands, 
improvements, and herds. 

2. A proper size unit. 

3. A carefully managed range with sufficient reserves in feed. 

4. A stabilized market. 

5. Reasonably long-term credit facilities. 

6. Sound managerial and business skill. 


Many causes can be assigned for what appears to be the needless 
exploitation and depletion of our western ranges, but underlying all 
of these are certain financial handicaps which influence markedly 
and sometimes exclusively range practices and husbandry and are 
detrimental to the maintenance of the forage and the soil which pro- 
duces it. Sometimes initial financial difficulties start abuses on the 
range; often abuses once started bring the stockman into further 
financial difficulties. The key financial problems, which with the 
passing of time have been persistently acute, have influenced ex- 
ploitation, and often have greatly aggravated the results of poor 
husbandry, can be traced to uncontrolled disadvantageous markets, 
uncertain and onerous credit facilities, and high carrying costs of 


The most disturbing factor of the livestock industry has been 
the uncertainty and lack of stability of its markets. Essentially this 
is a common problem of all agriculture and is national in character 
and in scope. The ordinary workings of supply and demand as a 
reasonably stabilizing force have not functioned. The loss of Old 
World markets, fluctuating changes in per-capita meat consump- 
tion at home, the abnormal peak demands during the Great War, all 
have merely accentuated previously existing disturbing factors. 

64946 36 15 


Without assurances of reasonably steady markets, no industry can 
build soundly, and when it takes 2 to 3 years to produce a salable 
crop the consequences of an unstable market may be utter ruin. 

The livestock producer has for many years been at the mercy of 
the packer and processor. Regardless of supply and demand, prices 
were set by a controlling group and in no relation to the cost of 
production. Some of these abuses have been mitigated by Federal 
and State laws, but essentially price is not fixed by the producer 
but is still controlled by outside forces. High freight rates and 
unfavorable differentials for some regions have placed further finan- 
cial difficulties in the way of assuring a fair return to the producer. 
Inadequate marketing facilities and lack of control in supply and 
demand are still matters to be solved. There is promise that through 
cooperative marketing and agricultural-adjustment programs stabili- 
zation and fair prices may be attained. 


Another financial difficulty of national character in the past has 
been the lack of adequate facilities for credits. The essential weak- 
ness in the credit system has been its assumption that the livestock 
enterprise was a gamble and a venturesome business, and its conse- 
quent extension only of short-term credits at high interest. This 
credit policy in no small measure contributed to mismanaged range. 
The unsound basis for loans, which ignored the care of the range 
and considered the number of stock as the basis for collateral, the 
easy markets during prosperous times, and restricted credits during 
depressed markets, have not been conducive to far-sighted plans 
for range management but rather encouraged liquidation of profits 
out of the range itself. 


The practices of the "free range" days laid too much emphasis 
on placing all the capital investments in livestock without regard to 
required investments in lands. The pioneer days of the open range 
constituted, as reported elsewhere, a period when the wealth of the 
stockman was measured by the total number of livestock he owned. 
His home ranch and improvements made up but a small portion of 
his total investment. As long as he could keep competitors off the 
virgin range, his task was merely the handling of his stock. Good 
years brought him big profits and bad years sometimes wiped him 
out. The predominant incentive of the open free range was the 
desire to increase stock ownership to the maximum. Even when 
competition for the open range became acute and some attempts at 
apportioning areas between the graziers was voluntarily initiated, 
the desire to maintain the largest possible herds persisted. 

To secure a more permanent foothold, the more farseeing and 
prudent, through purchase, accumulated lands within or adjacent to 
the publicly open ranges. There was never, however, any sense 
of individual security that the open range used would not be en- 
croached upon. This led to many a bitter range strife particularly 
between cattlemen and sheepmen. While the industry suffered in 
these vicious struggles, the range, the basic resource for their indus- 


try, suffered even more acutely and permanently. In many places, the 
open public range was "eaten or trampled into the ground" in this 
competitive strife, and still worse this range exploitation per- 
sisted on the public domain and likewise on privately owned or 
leased ranges held in single ownership. 

A. clear understanding that the condition of the range reflects the 
solvency and opportunity for profits of the livestock enterprise is 
not universally accepted. 


Unsound expansion by operators in lands and stock have reflected 
the attitude of a new pioneer country, where superexpansion over- 
rides a slower, but surer and sounder planned economy. The urge 
to secure a foothold on the range, and then control, brought the in- 
evitable rise in land prices beyond anything that any husbandry 
could long support. High prices for poor or mediocre range lands 
was just another straw on an already overloaded camel's back. In 
the wake of expansion and high land prices came also the inevitable 
rise in the tax base and increased taxes. These encouraged the 
building up of excessive local governmental service which could not 
be permanently sustained. When a break in the flow of taxes came, 
tax delinquency brought complete break-down of local governmental 
functions even below the margin that a rural American community 
should have. 

These financial problems all induced exploitation and short-term 
points of view regarding the ranch and range, and with these came 
depletion of the valuable natural resource, the foundation for a 
profitable and enduring livestock business. 


By LYLE F. WATTS, Director, Northern Rocky Mountain Forest and Range 

Experiment Station 


The lack of constructive national land policy designed to fit the 
semiarid and mountain grazing lands of the West has been a major 
factor in the depletion of our once great range forage resource. The 
belief in universal private ownership of land, the application to 
such a region of land laws designed to fit humid conditions, the 
failure to classify lands according to their highest use, and interpre- 
tation and administration of the statutes all played a definite part. 
The adverse effects of our past land policy on the ownership pattern 
of range lands and its influence on forage depletion are matters for 
national concern. 

The range country, as defined elsewhere, roughly includes all of 
the usable range lands west of the line which divides the tall-grass 
prairies from the short-grass plains. While there is much country 
east of this line best suited for range use and also much admirable 
crop land farther west, it is generally true that only in the most 
favored locations is the low annual precipitation of the semiarid 
West sufficient without irrigation for permanent, successful crop 

A brief resume of the purpose back of the acquisition by the 
United States of this immense area may provide a background 
which will aid in understanding the causes for the mistreatment to 
which it has been subjected. During the period of acquisition, the 
first half of the nineteenth century, most of that great stretch of 
country from Omaha west to the Rocky Mountains was mapped as 
the Great American Desert. 

Here was a country, stretching all the way from the Red River to the 
Canadian boundary, which seemed destined by a kind Providence to provide 
a permanent home for the Indian. Here he might live undisturbed, freed 
from the pressure of the westward-moving pioneer, who would never * * * 
settle in that semiarid, treeless country where all efforts at agriculture must 
surely fail. * * * Beyond the Missouri could never be utilized by white 
men, but must ever remain the home of the wild tribes who roamed over those 
frightful and terrifying wastes. (#8.) 

Why, then, did we acquire this country ? 

The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 (fig. 60) was made because Presi- 
dent Jefferson was convinced that we must control the port of New 
Orleans, then in French possession (74)- Free access to the Gulf 
was essential to the development and future prosperity of the Ohio 
and lower Mississippi Valleys. He sent Monroe to join Livingston, 
our Ambassador to France, to bargain for the port and Napoleon 
refused to relinquish the French claim unless he could include the 




entire French possessions on the Mississippi River Drainage. Much 
as they disliked to do so, our envoys acceded to his demands and that 
immense area was added to the public domain (5). 

Texas, a sovereign State which had recently won its freedom from 
Mexico, was annexed in 1845. Settlement had been partly from 
Mexico, but mainly through the efforts of an American colonizer, 
Austin, who had been granted concessions from the Mexican Gov- 
ernment (87). Through Austin's influence a large number of fron- 
tiersmen from the United States had taken up land and settled in 
the east portion. In self-protection against Mexico, they petitioned 
for admission to the Union, and after a political battle they were 
permitted to join. However, that immense area of predominantly 




! IN \803'""'\ 


The future range lands of the United States were acquired in huge tracts within a space 
of 50 years, with little if any thought of the wealth in forage and other products and 
services that they comprised. Areas in millions of acres, from General Land Office 
figures are : Louisiana Purchase, 529.9 ;, Texas Annexation (independent of the Texas 
Purchase of 1850), 170.2; Oregon Territory, 183.4; Texas Purchase, 78.9; Mexican 
Cession, 338.7 ; Gadsden Purchase, 19.0. 

range lands was considered so worthless that we refused to assume 
their public debt of $10,000,000, and in lieu they retained sovereignty 
over all land within their borders (14.6). Final settlement of the 
boundary claims of Texas was effected in 1850, when part of the area 
claimed by Texas, including part of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colo- 
rado, Wyoming, and Kansas, was acquired by purchase. Thus there 
has been no Federal public domain within the present boundary of 
the State of Texas. 

The Oregon Territory was acquired in 1846, primarily because of 
the flourishing fur trade which had been built up largely by John 
Astor. This pioneer industry was so important that in spite of 
objections we again included much additional land which was then 
believed to be worthless. The great region acquired from Mexico in 


1848 was wanted, partly because of agricultural or range values, but 
more because we could foresee the need for the Golden Gate Harbor 
and the Southern California ports. The Gadsden Purchase of 1853 
was made primarily to provide an all-American route for the South- 
ern Pacific Railroad (64) - Thus, range forage values seem to have 
played little part and even not to have been visualized during the 
period of acquisition. 

The general excellence of the forage cover over the greater part 
of the range country when the white man came in has been fully 
described. Briefly, the 848 million acres which constituted the virgin 
range supported close to its climax vegetation. Yet, within a single 
life span the greater part of this resource was destined to serious 
depletion. Much of the finest was to be denuded by the plow in an 
attempt at cropping lands suited only for grass. Truly, we have 
gone a long way to establish in fact the "Great American Desert" so 
familiar on the maps of the Oregon and Santa Fe Trail days. 


The disposal of western range lands antedates the acquisition of 
the West by our Government. The system followed in Texas and 
the Southwest is of special significance. 

Texas, the Gadsden Purchase, and the Mexican annexation were 
all originally under Spanish ownership. Thus the Spanish phi- 
losophy of land colonization was established over a very large area 
prior to acquisition. In parts of Texas, New Mexico, and California 
the beginnings of a landed aristocracy were well established. Army 
officers, priests, personal friends of the ruling group, and adventur- 
ers anxious to settle the new country, were favored by grants of land. 
The civilization thus started, perhaps a remnant of the old feudal 
system in Spain, was designed to perpetuate a landed aristocracy 
and a lower caste to which land ownership was denied. Even yet 
our southwestern range country exhibits a tendency toward very 
large outfits to which is attached a peon type of existence. 

. Exact records of the Spanish and Mexican land grants in most 
instances have not been preserved. It is known that certain grants 
date back as far as 1731 (87) in Texas 26 and 1773 in California. 
It is probable that commitments of more or less legal nature were 
made long before those dates. The period between the passage 
of the Mexican land law of 1824 and acquisition of the area by the 
United States, however, accounts for the great majority of land 
which passed to private ownership by this method. 

The various treaties of acquisition recognized the legality of land 
titles secured by prior grants. However, actual surveys of the land 
were made in relatively few cases. Claims to title frequently over- 
lapped, or were possessed by more than one individual. Evidence 
of legal title often was lacking. Thus for many years, in the Gen- 
eral Land Office and in the various courts, settlement of land claims 
originating during Spanish or Mexican sovereignty was a major 
function. The work of the Private Court of Claims, created in 1891 

28 The Texas grants are further discussed on p. 230. 


primarily to facilitate settlement of land claims originating out 
of the Mexican Cession and the Gadsden Purchase, was completed 
in 1894 (74)- The best available information indicates that there 
were more than 1,100 valid grants in California, New Mexico, and 
Arizona covering an area of more than 19 million acres. 

Despite the fact that the average size of these grants was more 
than 17,000 acres and many were very much larger, most of those 
which are still used as range are in no better condition than the 
average of privately owned range lands. Here and there an outfit 
has realized the need for protecting the forage resource, but more 
often the ranges have been as seriously overstocked and as badly 
abused as on other private lands. 

In contrast to the landed-aristocracy philosophy back of the Span- 
ish and Mexican Land Grants, the public-land policy of the United 
States has been based on the democratic philosophy that all citizens 
should have an equal right to share in our land disposal. Small 
units only of sufficient size to support one family have been the 
objective. That the plan was successful in the humid agricultural 
region of the East can hardly be questioned. Had our range-land 
disposal legislation been so drawn and interpreted as truly to support 
this principle, it is possible that much less of our range land would 
have been so seriously depleted. 

It is not the purpose of this report to trace through all of the land 
legislation of this country. There have been approximately 5,000 
laws so classified (161). Certain laws or groups of laws have, how- 
ever, had such an important bearing on range depletion that some 
special consideration of them seems essential. 


A land policy for the United States was first formulated by Alex- 
ander Hamilton, who believed that the public lands, if sold in small 
tracts to settlers, would furnish a very great source of revenue for 
the Government. Although emphasis in the early land ordinances 
was placed on the revenue feature (15J+, P- 637) there was very gen- 
eral recognition that the price must be kept sufficiently low as to be 
no hindrance to rapid colonization. Revenue, as a major factor in 
land disposal, survived for only a short period, but the belief that 
all lands should pass to private ownership in small tracts became 
firmly fixed (74) Laws designed to pass title direct to the settler 
were made less restrictive with each change. 

The basic homestead law was passed in 1862 prior to the settle- 
ment of the semiarid range country west of Omaha, which was still 
"the Indian country." To be sure gold had been discovered in Cali- 
fornia, Montana, Idaho, and Colorado, and a flourishing agriculture 
was growing up in the valleys around these camps. The missions 
throughout the West had established themselves primarily on a basis 
of irrigated crop agriculture and livestock husbandry. Yet settle- 
ments were few and far between and the hardships of the Oregon 
and Santa Fe Trails were too real to encourage any thought of 
wholesale settlement. And then came the cattle. 


Herds, as discussed in another section, built up around the de- 
mand for beef in the camps and for oxen to replace worn-out ani- 
mals in the immigrant trains, expanded and made their owners 
independent. Texas cattlemen, without a market for their surplus 
stock after the Civil War, discovered the possibility of trailing to 
better ranges to the north for fattening. In the span of a few 
years almost the entire West was explored and stocked over- 
stocked with cattle. 

Many of the ranches experimented with crop raising around head- 
quarters, mainly to winter the saddle stock and a few milch cows. 
Gardens were grown. Far-sighted stockmen soon realized that ef- 
fective control of their range was tied in with control of the avail- 
able stock water. Legal possession was essential to permanence in 
the right to use such key tracts. The 160-acre homestead law was 
the best way out. 

Even though one man could acquire only 160 acres under this law, 
it was simple enough and not too questionable morally, to have a 
cow hand file and prove up on another key tract while working for 
the outfit. If he slept in the shack or sodhouse once in a while, had 
an old stove and some tin dishes and left a worn-out shirt hanging 
on a nail, it certainly was his home. There were plenty of cow 
punchers and plenty of others who were glad to make a few dollars 
by proving up on a claim. Then someone discovered that he had a 
key tract and no legal obligation to transfer the title which he got 
from the Government. So he "upped the price" and made a real 
stake. Another, more ambitious, decided that with his homestead, 
which included the only water for miles, he was a potential cow- 
man and bought a few head of cattle. A new outfit was in the live- 
stock business. Thus the principle of passing title to a sufficient 
area to support a family was never applied in the range country 
even from the beginning of settlement. 

Gradually the news spread that there was opportunity in the 
Plains country and the rush of homesteaders began. That the land 
was ill suited to crop agriculture and that 160 acres would not sup- 
port a family did not worry the settlers and apparently did not in- 
fluence the administration of the law. Data segregating from the 
rest of the United States the homestead history of the range States 
are not available. However, the bulk of the lands in the tall-grass 
prairies and eastward had passed to private ownership before 1870. 
Thus table 40 and figure 61 give a fair indication of the rate of 
homesteading in the semi arid West. The phenomenal increase in 
acreage patented in the period beginning in 1913 was due to a lib- 
eralization of the law which permitted proof to be made after 21 
months of residence, instead of after 5 years. This was known as 
the 3-year homestead law of 1912. 



TABLE 40. Final homestead entries from passage of act to June 80, 1935 l 
(commuted hamesteads not inchtded) 

Fiscal year 

of entries 


Fiscal year 

of entries 


1868 _. 


355, 086 


31 627 

4 342 748 



504 302 


26 373 

3 576 964 



519, 728 


23, 932 

3 232 717 



629, 162 


24 621 

3 419 387 


5 917 

707 410 


25 546 

3 526 749 

1873 . 

10, 311 

1, 224, 891 


26' 485 

3 740 568 



1, 585, 782 


29 636 

4 242 711 



2, 068, 538 



3 699 467 


22, 530 

2, 590, 553 


23 253 

3 795 863 



2, 407, 828 


25, 908 

4, 620, 197 



2, 662, 981 


24 326 

4 306 069 


17, 391 

2, 070, 842 


53, 252 

10, 009, 285 


15, 441 

1, 938, 235 


48, 724 

9 291, 121 


15, 077 

1, 928, 205 


37 343 

7 180 982 


17, 174 

2, 219, 454 


37, 958 

7, 278, 281 


18, 998 

2, 504, 415 


43 727 

8 497 390 


21, 843 

2 945 575 


41 319 

8 236 438 

1885 . 

22, 066 

3, 032, 679 


32, 623 

6, 524, 760 


19, 356 

2, 663, 532 


39 774 

8 372 696 


19, 866 

2, 749, 037 



7, 726, 740 


22, 413 

3, 175, 401 


30 919 

7 307 034 



3, 681, 709 

1923 . 


5, 594, 259 



4, 060, 593 



4 791,436 


27, 686 

3 954 588 


14 675 

4 048 911 


22, 822 

3, 259, 897 


12, 244 

3, 451, 106 


24, 204 

3, 477, 232 


9 315 

2 583,627 



2, 929, 947 



1, 815, 549 



2, 980, 809 



1, 700, 950 

1896 - 

20, 099 

2, 790, 243 



1, 371, 073 



2, 778, 404 



1, 352, 861 


22, 281 

3, 095, 018 





22, 812 

3, 134, 140 



906, 578 


25, 286 

3, 477, 843 



1, 123, 673 


37, 568 

5, 241, 121 



1, 640, 393 

i Data from U. S. Department of the Interior, General Land Office. 

The use of water for irrigation at the mouth of mountain valleys 
proved so successful that this scheme of crop production in the 
semiarid region took gradual form. Where the cost of water diver- 
sion was beyond the means of one settler, groups combined to share 
the expense. From small beginnings this procedure has grown to 
large proportions and the Federal Government now finances projects 
through the Reclamation Service. That this development has been 
the major contribution to permanent crop agriculture in the West is 
generally recognized. Low-value, semiarid land, worthless except 
for natural forage, has been converted through irrigation into some 
of our most productive communities. To a large degree the success- 
ful use of adjacent range lands is dependent upon the forage raised 
in irrigated valleys. But there is a limit to the lands so situated that 
irrigation is feasible or possible; and even more important, there is 
a limit to the water available. There is little criticism against the 
homestead laws as applied to lands on which irrigation was practical. 

As stated above, only a small part of the western range States can 
be irrigated (159). In Montana only 1.7 percent of the total land 
area has been placed under irrigation and not more than 2.8 percent 
can be so utilized. In Utah the corresponding percentages are 2.5 
and 3.3. Even in California where the markets are close at hand 
and the climate is such as to permit of raising semitropical fruits, 
only 4.8 percent has been placed under irrigation to date. 

And then someone discovered that dry-land farming was a possi- 
bility, and that under the influence of favorable years these virgin 



grasslands could be made to grow wheat. That it had taken nature 
centuries to build up a few inches of fertile topsoil, that frequent 
and severe drought would result in crop failure, that the "summer- 
fallowing" practice was likely to facilitate wind erosion just as 
much as moisture conservation these facts were not realized. Mil- 
lions of acres of excellent native grassland passed to private owner- 




. 20 



1868 1873 1878 1883 1888 1893 1898 1903 1908 1913 1918 1923 1928 

to to to to to to to to to to to to to 

1872 1877 1882 1887 1892 1897 1902 1907 1912 1917 1922 1927 1932 


Homesteading east of the short-grass country had already slackened by 1868. These 
bars showing the acreage patented up to 1933 indicate, in the main, the sweep and 
decline of range-land homesteading. The sharp advance in the 1913-17 period is 
largely explained by the passage of the so-called Three-year Homestead Act of 1912. 

ship under the homestead laws in a disastrous attempt to do what 
nature would not permit. Other millions of acres were filed on and 
broken up but were abandoned even before patent was issued. To- 
day the semiarid West is dotted with abandoned shacks where a 
worn-out tractor stands back of the fallen-down barn, witnessing 
what has proved to be the crowning mistake of an attempt to force 
low- value lands into private ownership for crop agriculture. 


Since the effects of the homestead law on the range resource can- 
not be segregated from the effects of all land-disposal laws, detailed 
discussion will be reserved for later presentation; but this much 
should be said here : The homestead law made no provision for ade- 
quate classification of the land to determine its suitability for crop 
agriculture. There is valid question whether this lack of a specific 
mandate need have prevented such action, but in any event no means 
was worked out by which waterholes and other key areas could be 
withdrawn from entry as were the power sites jn the early part of 
the twentieth century on the national forests. Also the income of 
registers and receivers of land offices has been based largely on num- 
ber of entries and acreage of land disposed of, thus further empha- 
sizing disposal rather than sound principles of land use. 


Early in the settlement of the West it became apparent that the 
160-acre homestead did not fit the climatic and soil conditions of 
most of the semiarid region. President Grant visited the Mountain 
States in 1875 and in his message to Congress in December of that 
year (59) said: 

In territory where cultivation of the soil can only be followed by irrigation, 
and where irrigation is not practicable the lands can only be used as pastur- 
age, and this only where stock can reach water cannot be governed by the 
laws as to entries as lands every acre of which is an independent estate of 
itself. Land must be held in larger quantities to justify the expense of con- 
ducting water upon it to make it fruitful or to justify utilizing it as pasturage. 

Powell (107) in his report of 1878 recognized the fact that a large 
acreage of irrigated land per individual was neither necessary or de- 
sirable from the standpoint of western development. He was per- 
haps the first to express the viewpoint that our land-disposal policy 
must coordinate crop agriculture, water use, and grazing. His plan 
contemplated group action for irrigation, provision for free use of 
water for stock, and a large acreage (2,560-acre minimum) of range 
land to round out an economic home unit. 

In spite of the growing appreciation that crop agriculture was un- 
suited to much of the West and that economic range use must be 
substituted as the basis for land disposal, laws continued to pass 
which encouraged passage of title to private ownership with little 
regard to the area required, under proper use, to support a family. 

The Kinkaid Act of 1904, restricted in application to the excel- 
lent grazing country of western Nebraska was intended to main- 
tain the fundamental principles of the homestead idea. The House 
Public Land Committee (74) in recommending its passage said: 

Increase in the area of homestead above that provided by the original 
Homestead Law made with the view of compensating the homesteader, in 
a measure, in quantity of land for what the land lacks in quality and 

Within 10 years after the passage of the act, which increased the 
area of the homestead to 640 acres, practically all available lands 
under the act had been entered. That this act did not accomplish the 
purpose for which it was passed is established by the fact that much 
of the land of the original "Kinkaiders", long since abandoned for 
cropping, has been included in larger units for strictly range use. 


The Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909, originally restricted in ap- 
plication to 9 States but later broadened to include 12, was even 
less wisely conceived. In the first place the homestead size was 
limited to 320 acres. It provided that one-fourth of the area be 
cultivated, that residence be the same as on all homesteads, and that 
none of the land be irrigable. Clearly the law was intended to in- 
clude grazing lands, usually as pasturage for 160-acre homesteads 
already occupied. Yet it placed a premium on dry-farming through 
the requirement of cultivation. Although less than 3 million acres 
was acquired under the provisions of this act, it had a bad effect 
on range management in that it provided one more method for 
breaking up into very small units grazing lands which could not 
economically be so handled, and encouraged the plowing under of 
good forage in order to get title to the land. 

Irrigation was first made into a cooperative institution by the 
Mormons under that able colonizer, Brigham Young. That special 
legislation was required for this type of development was soon ap- 
parent. The Commissioner of the General Land Office in his report 
for 1875 (162) in discussing the application of this system to the 
land, said: 

For their reclamation a system necessarily expensive, because involving canals 
or main ditches of great length and size, is required; and, hence, associated 
capital must be called upon to furnish the means of success. But the security 
for its repayment, even the inducement to furnish it, must be found in the 
lands to be benefited. 

The solution offered by this report was the public sale at the Gov- 
ernment price of suitable lands west of the one hundredth meridian. 

The first legislation passed specifically to advance irrigation agri- 
culture was the Desert Land Act of 1877 (74) which provided for the 
sale of 640 acres of land to a settler who would irrigate it within 3 
years. Payment of 25 cents per acre was required at the time of 
filing and $1 at the time final proof was made. Although less than 
10 million acres have gone to patent under .this act, it has served as 
another approach to misuse of the range. By making desert entries 
only on the land which included water holes, stockmen could control 
large tracts of range land for a period of 3 years at a very small 
cost per acre. Thus, the acreage patented is no measure of the ex- 
tent to which this law was used in the competition for control of 
the range. 

It is significant that ample provision to correct many of the abuses 
which were prevalent under this law was made in 1888. At that 
time a law was passed (74) which directed that all lands selected 
as sites for reservoirs, canals, and ditches and all lands susceptible 
of irrigation by such means be withdrawn from entry. Despite this 
sweeping bit of legislation, no constructive action was taken to cor- 
rect the situation. 


Shortly after the cattle boom of the eighties, farsighted men 
began to realize that the range resource was not in fact inexhaustible. 
Reports began to spread that the ranges were overcrowded and as a 
result were being permanently damaged. In recognition of this, 
President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 appointed a commission con- 


sisting of W. A. Kichards, Commissioner of the General Land Office, 
F. H. Newell, Chief Engineer of the Reclamation Service, and Gif- 
ford Pinchot, Forester of the Department of Agriculture, to make 
an investigation, report upon conditions, and recommend such 
changes as were needed in the land laws. The report of this com- 
mission (146) submitted] by the President to Congress in 1905-6 
clearly set forth what was happening : 

The general lack of control in the use of public grazing lands has resulted, 
naturally and inevitably, in overgrazing and the ruin of millions of acres of 
otherwise valuable grazing territory. Lands useful for grazing are losing their 
only capacity for productiveness, as, of course, they must when no legal control 
is exercised. 

Included in this report were the results of a study made by A. F. 
Potter, who through extremely wide acquaintance with stockmen of 
the West, was able to get an expression of opinion from some 1,400 
stockmen well distributed over the range States. The preponderance 
of the expressions were favorable to some sort of Federal adminis- 
tration of grazing on the public domain. This coincided with the 
views of the commission. They made such a recommendation and 
strongly urged that the range lands be withdrawn from selection 
under the homestead and desert homestead laws. No constructive 
action was taken. On the contrary, by 1916 pressure became so 
great that the most unfortunate of the land-disposal laws as applied 
to range lands was enacted, the Grazing Homestead Act. 

Instead of recognizing the similarity in principle between the 
treatment required for timber lands and that required for low-value 
range lands and providing a companion act to the Forest Reserve 
Act passed in 1891, we clung to the private-ownership philosophy. 

Bad as have been the effects of this law, there was within it one 
provision subject to an interpretation which could have prevented 
most of the difficulty : 

The Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized, on application or other- 
wise, to designate as stock-raising lands subject to entry under this act, lands 
the surface of which is, in his opinion, chiefly valuable for grazing and raising 
forage crops, do not contain merchantable timber, are not susceptible of irri- 
gation from any known source of water supply, and are of such character that 
640 acres are reasonably required for the support of a family. 

The actual interpretation which has been given the above clause 
has been so completely at variance with that contemplated at the 
time the law was passed that some discussion is essential. A study 
of the facts has been made by Dr. E. A. Sherman, Assistant Chief. 
United States Forest Service, who says : 

Associate Forester Albert F. Potter, on December 9, 1916, while the measure 
was in conference, called the attention of Assistant Secretary of the Interior 
Finney to the above language, and suggested that the last clause be amended 
to read, "and are of such character that 640 acres may reasonably be expected 
to support a family." Mr. Finney reported that Secretary Lane (Interior) 
approved the change, and, under instructions from Secretary Houston (Agri- 
culture), Mr. Potter presented it to Congressman Scott Ferris, who called the 
conferees together and secured favorable consideration of Mr. Potter's pro- 
posal. All of the conferees were in favor of the amendment, but ruled that 
it would be subject to a point of order, arid it was therefore not included. 
Congressman William Kent, of California, opposed the measure in conference 
because he was fearful that as worded it would permit the classification of all 
lands which were not of a character on which a man could make a living on 
less than 640 acres. This resulted in a conference with Assistant Secretaries 


Finney and Vogelsang, Mr. Mahaffey, Forester H. S. Graves, and Associate 
Forester Albert F. Potter. The representatives of the Department of the Inte- 
rior contended that the Secretary of the Interior was given a wide discretion and 
need designate "only such lands as in his opinion were suitable for the pur- 
poses of the law", with the understanding that the lands to be designated 
would be passed on by the United States Geological Survey and would be of 
such a character that 640 acres "may reasonably be expected to support a 
family." The measure was thereupon accepted by the representatives of the 
Department of Agriculture. Mr. Kent withdrew his objection, and Secretary 
of Agriculture Houston advised the President that : 

"The Secretary of the Interior is required to designate the lands as 'stock- 
raising lands' before they may be entered, and he can designate only such lands 
'the surface of which is, in his opinion, chiefly valuable for grazing and raising 
forage crops, do not contain merchantable timber, and are not susceptible of 
irrigation from any known source of water supply, and are of such character 
that 640 acres are reasonably required for the support of a family.' As I 
interpret it, in order to designate such lands, the Secretary must of necessity 
have a classification made. He cannot permit any applicant to secure a home- 
stead in excess of 640 acres, and he must have reasonable assurance that the 
640 acres applied for will be reasonably required for the support of a family. 
I do not understand that there could be created under the act a homestead 
of 640 acres on which the entryman might not reasonably expect to support 
his family." 

With the foregoing understanding, Secretary Houston raising no objection 
to the approval of the measure as finally passed, it was signed by President 
Wilson and became a law. 

For a time the Geological Survey appears to have endeavored to adhere to 
the requirement that in order to be classified as subject to entry under the 
stockl-raising homestead law the land must be capable of supporting a family 
on 640 acres and millions of acres were so classified, but political pressure 
resulting in adverse rulings by the Department forced abandonment of the 
policy for a rule-of-thumb requirement that the land be capable of supporting 
not less than 30 head of cattle yearlong for each 640-acre entry. This was in 
turn abandoned for the same reasons, and most anything short of absolute 
desert was given stock-raising homestead classification. Testifying before the 
House Oommittee on Public Lands, February 18, 1934, Congressman Taylor, 
of Colorado, stated that up to June 30, 1933, 24,326,349 acres of land had 
passed to patent, and an additional 124,669,640 acres had been classified and 
designated as subject to the act. 

The upshot of the whole matter was another outstanding example of a rea- 
sonably good law unwisely and improvidently administered. The Department 
of Agriculture had conceived the purpose of the bill to be the establishment 
of "stock-raising homes" and not "stock-raising entries." 

The extent to which the stock-raising homestead law has been used 
is shown by tables 41 and 42. It is significant that of the more than 
08 million acres entered under this law only approximately 26 mil- 
lion acres have gone to patent and only about 14 million acres are 
now pending. Thus nearly 28 million acres are represented by 
entries which were abandoned before proof was made. The finan- 
cial and spiritual toll exacted from tens of thousands of families that 
were permitted to try a venture in which they were doomed to failure 
is a convincing confutation of the theory, "Let the purchaser beware." 







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Although the various homestead laws account for the great bulk 
of the land which has passed direct from the public domain to 

Erivate ownership, many other methods to accomplish this purpose 
ave been legalized. The issuance of script redeemable in land to 
be taken from the public domain has not been uncommon. Eastern 
States, not so fortunate as to contain public domain, and Texas, have 
been issued land script to the extent of 7,830,000 acres to be selected 
in public-land States for the support of education. Recognition of 
the obligation which the Nation owes to soldiers of the various wars 
has been met in part by the issuance of land script covering more 
than 1.6 million acres of public lands (35} . These promises of lands 
were made transferable and therefore soon found their way into the 
channels of trade. During certain periods the buying and selling 
of script assumed major proportions on the stock markets. It is 
impossible to estimate the extent to which script was used in acquir- 
ing range lands, but it is well known that a great part was gathered 
in by timber companies as one means of bringing about the consolida- 
tion of ownership of the choicest timberlands of the West. 

Mineral and coal land disposal under the various laws had taken 
less than 4 million acres by 1931. Although no objection is here 
raised to the validity of encouraging the development of mining by 
this method, it is unfortunate that the mining laws have at times 
been used for purposes not intended under the laws. Too often 
mining claims of questionable mineral value have been located in 
the heart of range units or to control the use of water. Thus proper 
range management has been made more difficult. Coordinated use 
of our natural resources, under which the needs of the mines and 
miners are given full consideration, would seem to be a more logical 
principle to follow than that of passing to patent or control a graz- 
ing resource in which the patentee presumably is only incidentally 

Many methods other than those discussed have been used to pass 
to private ownership title to range lands, but the principles involved 
and the effects on range depletion are similar. The Timber Culture 
Acts, the Timber and Stone Act, the Carey Reclamation Act, and 
the various cash-sale provisions are a few that should be listed even 
though space limitations prevent discussion. 


Perhaps the main deterrent to rapid settlement and development 
of the West was the lack of adequate transportation facilities. The 
idea that the disposal of public lands should aid in solving this 
problem was early conceived. Precedent for the use on a large scale 
of the proceeds from the sale of public lands is first found in the 
Enabling Act of the State of Ohio in 1802 (74) . It provided that 
5 percent of the gross receipts from such sales should be made avail- 
able and used for the building of public roads. Following this, 
grants for transportation development were numerous. Some were 
made to States with stipulations as to how the money was to be 
used, but more frequently the grant was direct to the railroad as a 
subsidy to aid in financing the original construction. This phase 



of our land-disposal policy reached its peak in the sixties when the 
grants to the Union Pacific, Central Pacific, Northern Pacific, Santa 
Fe, and Southern Pacific were consummated. The magnificence of 
these subsidies soon raised so much opposition that the practice was 
stopped with the exception of relatively minor grants for the pur- 
pose of financing a few branch lines, connecting links, and to aid in 
consolidations. Altogether, as shown in table 43, more than 101 mil- 
lion acres were granted to States and corporations to advance rail- 
road building in the range country. Figure 62 presents graphically 
their extent and location. 

TABLE 43. Status of railroad grants 


grants > 

holding rail- 
roads 8 

grants to 
States for 
and wagon 
roads * 


8 419 505 

5 3 770 896 




2 008, 461 





1, 015, 479 

570, 148 


7, 849, 592 


4, 634, 237 


14, 342, 510 

3, 516, 441 


7, 657, 737 




4, 440, 078 

New Mexico 

3, 464, 049 

1, 437, 521 

North Dakota 

10, 301, 912 

16, 354 




3, 489, 499 

192, 559 

2, 583, 890 

South Dakota 7 __ 


Texas 8 

136, 194 


2, 277, 839 

673, 281 


9, 930, 543 

1, 531, 596 


5, 104, 786 

938, 603 


94 149 866 

19,298 178 

7 218 127 

Bureau of Railway Economics unpublished data as of June 30, 1933. 
From unpublished data of Interstate Commerce Commission, 1934. 

3 Exclusive of rights-of-way and urban property. 

4 These lands were transferred to construction companies or railroads. 

Includes 3,755,581 acres transferred to holding company for Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Co. 
Includes 1,431,641 acres transferred to holding company for Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Co. 

7 Small acreage included with North Dakota. 

8 The railroad lands in Texas were direct grants by the State total grants to railroads, 32,153,878 acres 

While the stipulations differed in the various grants, the usual pro- 
cedure was to include all of the alternate sections for a distance vary- 
ing as between grants from 10 to 40 miles on each side of the right-of- 
way. Provision was made for the selection of "lieu lands", generally 
within 10 miles beyond this limit, in lieu of lands which had already 
been settled, were mineral in character, or for any other reason were 
not available to the railroad company. That the railroad grants 
accomplished their major purpose cannot be questioned. Transcon- 
tinental lines were financed and pushed through much sooner than 
they otherwise would have been. 

In the final analysis these grants were intended to encourage 
passage of title to private owners in small tracts similar to the home- 
stead law. Stipulations were usually included which controlled the 
price at which the land could be offered for sale and which required 
that it be offered by a certain specified time after construction. 
Table 43 shows that in the range States more than 19 million acres 
still remain in railroad ownership. 



It is significant that in the administration of the railroad -grant 
laws the Federal land policy of passing of title to private ownership 
is clearly shown. Vigorous protests by the Forest Service against 
further patenting of land to the Northern Pacific Co. resulted in the 
passage of Public Resolution 24, Sixty-eighth Congress, on June 5, 

National Forests and Purchase Units 
National Parks and Monuments 
^ Indian Reservations 

Established Grazing Districts 

External limits of railroad and 
other road grants 



The various railroad land grants of alternate sections within the limits shown above 
included an extremely large acreage of grazing lands. Federal reservations and with- 
drawals later overlapped these grants. These grants still complicate the ownership 

1924. Among other provisions this resolution created a joint com- 
mittee of both Houses of Congress to make a complete investigation 
of the Northern Pacific land grants. Hearings were held and the 
complete record was submitted to the Attorney General for analysis 
and advice. His findings (H*7) are summarized: 


A consideration of the foregoing suggestions indicates that not only does no 
deficiency exist in the grants but that the company has already received approxi- 
mately 5 million acres of public land which it has not earned and is not 
entitled to. 

Final disposition of this case is still in the courts. 

Naturally the land-disposal policy of the railroads has had two 
purposes: (1) The conversion of land into money and (2) the set- 
tlement at the most rapid rate of the territory served. High-pressure 
salesmanship was resorted to in furtherance of these aims. Certain 
roads even went so far as to open land offices in the capitals of 
Europe. Here was developed the land agents' viewpoint on a whole- 
sale basis. Colonization schemes destined to failure were undertaken 
on a grand scale. The ease of irrigation, and the profits to be had 
from dry-land farming were presented in glowing terms. Thus 
many more millions of acres of typical range land, unsuited to crop 
agriculture, were put to the plow. 

Fortunately the sales policy of most of those roads which still have 
lands to sell has reversed. It is now realized that, in the long run. 
the railroads can benefit only as the individual purchaser is success- 
ful. Misuse of the land is discouraged. Purchasers destined to fail- 
ure because of inexperience are not solicited, and prices are set at the 
figure at which the purchaser has a chance to retain title. In most 
instances the railroads are in the vanguard of the movement to bring 
about some orderly plan of action which will insure stable and profit- 
able use of the land. However, the checkerboard pattern of the rail- 
road holdings makes difficult any sort of blocking up of range-land 
tenure in tracts of sufficient size to permit of economical livestock 
operations. In the establishment of one large grazing district in 
Montana, however, the Northern Pacific Co. took a leading part. 
Their own holdings, which were a large percentage of the total, were 
turned in to the grazing association at a very low rental price. 

A part of the railroad lands are given relatively good management. 
Those sections which fall within the national forests usually can be 
used only in connection with adjoining lands. Thus they are usually 
leased by a national-forest permittee who turns them in to the Forest 
Service for a permit to graze the number of stock equivalent to the 
determined grazing capacity of the land. 

Not much can be said in favor of the range practice required on 
most of the railroad lands. It consists simply in leasing the lands 
without restrictions as to numbers of stock to be grazed or the season 
during which the land may be so used. Presumably it is assumed 
that the lessor will protect the resource. As a usual practice the 
lands are first offered to the logical local user or users. If the lease 
is not thus taken up, the lands are then offered to the highest bidder, 
who more often than not secured the land for less than the annual 
taxes assessed against it. Much of the land is never leased at all, 
because it is so badly intermingled with other holdings that it can- 
not be protected from trespass. 



The treaty of annexation of Texas, signed in 1845, provided, as 
already stated, that the new State would retain title to the lands 
within its borders. Thus we have an example of land disposal on a 
large scale by the individual State. That the land-ownership pattern 
of Texas is extremely complicated can be more readily understood if 
it is realized that previous to its annexation by the United States it 
had been, first, a Spanish Province, then in 1820 a part of the "State 
of Coahuila and Texas" under the Government of Mexico, and lastly, 
a sovereign independent nation. 

The first title to land in Texas probably dates back to 1731 under 
a grant from Spain (87). From that date until 1819 various large 
and small grants were made by the Spanish Kings. In most instances 
the motive back of the grant was the extension of the Catholic religion 
and the colonization of the province. Although permanent settle- 
ments through Spanish efforts seem to have been a failure, it is esti- 
mated that private title to about 10 million acres of land 27 goes back 
to this source. 

The Mexican influence on land ownership in Texas is very pro- 
nounced. It too was designed to encourage settlement and perpetuate 
the ruling religion, but it did set up a land-disposal scheme which had 
some merit. Under it, with certain restrictions as to residence and 
citizenship, an area of land varying from 177 acres of tillable land to 
4,251 acres of grazing land could be secured by one individual. In 
addition, anyone who would organize a colony of 100 or more families 
received a liberal reward in land. Though many minor changes and 
modifications were made, the system thus started remained in effect 
until 1845 as the land policy of the Republic of Texas. Under the 
system more than 16 million acres passed to private ownership. 

Texas, as a State, as shown in the following tabulation (14%) > nas 
used almost every known device except the lottery system in its 
public-land disposal. 


Grants by Spain and Mexico 26,268,000 

State university 2, 221, 400 

Kiamasha Road 27, 000 

To build State capitol 3,050,000 

County courthouses , 640 

San Jacinto Veterans 1,169,382 

Disabled Confederates 1, 979, 852 

Homestead donations (preemption) 4,847,136 

Internal improvements , 4, 061, 000 

Counties for schools 4,229,166 

Headright and bounties 36,876,492 

Colonies___ - 4, 494, 806 

Railroads 32, 153, 878 

Asylums , 400, 000 

Public free schools 42, 400, 556 

Total 164,191,308 

27 Some estimates are as high as 20 million acres (87). 


Free homesteading has been encouraged, soldiers have been reim- 
bursed in land and in land script, construction companies were paid 
in land for the construction of public buildings, large quantities 
were donated for internal improvements, it has been sold outright 
as a means of raising revenue, and an enormous area has been used 
to endow the public schools and institutions of higher education. 
Thus the land history of Texas is similar to that of the Nation ex- 
cept that more consideration was given to the relationship of size 
to intended use. That private range lands in Texas have been de- 
pleted to substantially the same degree as have those in adjoining 
States is evidence that size is not the only answer to the proper 
use of such a resource. Current profits, inadequate finances, and 
failure to consider the forage as a renewable resource seem to have 
controlled here as elsewhere. 

Those lands which remain in the various forms of State or in- 
stitutional ownership are managed primarily for the greatest cur- 
rent revenue. No adequate provision has been made in leases and 
use agreements to perpetuate watershed values of the range forage 
resource at a permanent high level. Cents per acre rather carrying 
capacity has controlled in large measure. 

In all of the range States except Texas, State ownership of land 
largely goes back to Federal grants for educational purposes or for 
public or semipublic improvements. 


That the use of public lands for educational purposes and for essen. 
tial public improvements was a laudable purpose has been demon- 
strated. Our common-school system, our land-grant colleges, and 
our other favored institutions have benefited greatly. That they 
might have benefited more in the long run under a plan of land 
management which would have protected the range resource for 
both present and future generations seems equally clear. 

Proposals that a portion of the public lands or of the receipts from 
the sale of public lands be distributed to the States probably orig- 
inated in 1824 when a proposal was made that money from the sale 
of lands be invested, and the interest therefrom be distributed 
among the States. The following year a congressional committee 
was appointed to investigate the possibilities of such a plan with 
special reference to the possibility of using the money to finance a 
public-school system and of the effect of such a plan on the coloniza- 
tion and development of the United States (74) The committee 
report was favorable, but the question was destined to occupy the 
middle of the political stage many years before the principle wa? 
finally accepted. 

It is not the purpose of this report to present the detailed history 
of Federal grants to the States of lands or money from the sale of 
lands. The system was followed and has done much to foster the 
cause of education and public improvements. Table 44 shows the 
extent of such grants and present ownership in the western range 


TABLE 44. State land status for 17 entire Western States 




Range land 

Range land 

Administrative agency of State 



8 356 497 

8 242 497 

7 380 000 


8, 427, 077 

1, 040, 594 

448 360 

20 499 

Division of State lands depart* 


4,433 538 

3 182 102 

2 925 737 

2 426 165 

ment of finance. 


3, 632, 157 

2 881 285 

1 291 338 

1 798 964 



3, 606, 910 

71 302 

71 302 

sioner 's department . 


5, 869, 618 

4 861 998 

4 219 998 

2 982 985 

Nebraska ... 

3, 458, 711 

1 724 143 

1 574 143 

1 i 601 549 



2, 723, 647 

126, 587 

117, 587 

2 None 

and buildings. 

New Mexico 

12, 732, 694 

12, 697, 651 

12, 186, 651 

3 10 700 000 

Commissioner of public lands 

North Dakota 

3, 163, 551 

1,855 055 

1 556 901 

1 173 432 


3 095 760 

989 880 

469 880 

137 641 

school lands. 


4,375 429 

611 927 

540 767 

29 524 


South Dakota 

3, 434, 203 

3 931 059 

3 356 346 

2 623 427 

its department. 


22,425 903 

19 964 436 

2 270 285 

lie lands. 
General Land Office of Texas 


7, 464, 276 

2 800 000 

2 297 300 

287 861 


3, 044, 471 

2, 230, 796 

1, 196 976 

468 522 

State land commissioner of pub- 


4,138 569 

3 567 242 

3 222 242 

3 050 058 

lic lands. 

and farm loans. 


84 142 724 

73 354 021 

63 682 461 

36 950 912 

1 Probably includes agricultural lands. 

No State lands leased; all are sold outright or on long-time payment plan. 

J Includes small percentage of agricultural lands. 

As a result of apparent fraud in disposing of land in the earlier 
grants, most of the grants, or the State constitutions, placed limita- 
tions on freedom of action in disposing of the land. Obviously the 
main reason back of the restrictions was a fear that State govern- 
ments would be dominated by political influence and as a result the 
lands would be disposed of as political or personal favors and at a 
fraction of their true value. Thus, in most grants, stipulations as 
to minimum selling prices and restrictions on sales are to be found. 
In several States the minimum price was so high in relation to 
resource values that it prevented disposal of any but the best land. 
Apparently the price set was based on the belief that all. land would 
ultimately command a substantial price and on a desire to obtain 
all that the traffic would bear in State land disposal. 

Regardless of the justification from other standpoints, range man- 
agement on State lands has been seriously hampered by the scat- 
tered geographic distribution of the land over the States. The usual 
custom has been to designate sections 16 and 36 of each township 
as common-school land. In Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah sections 
2 and 32 were also so designated. Only in Nevada was this problem 
avoided; here, in lieu of a grant of named sections, the State ulti- 
mately was given the right to select from any unreserved and unap- 
propriated public lands 2 million acres for common-school purposes 

This distribution in small units, rather than in tracts of sufficient 
size for efficient administration, would go far toward preventing the 


application of sound range management principles even if those re- 
sponsible for the handling of such lands so desired. 

The State of Nevada based the location of its school-land selections 
on salability, especially as influenced by the control of water, which 
was especially vital to the use of the range. Thus in this instance 
the State land furnished the key to the use of an immense area of 
surrounding public domain, and this explains in part why such a 
large part of Nevada's common-school land has passed to private 

Attempts at consolidation of State land in the public-land States 
of the West in blocks large enough for management have been made 
with more or less success. The greatest aid to this endeavor has been 
the various lieu selection acts. Title to land granted the States did 
not pass until the lands were surveyed and the survey accepted. 
Meanwhile the State grant might be defeated as to a given area 
either by settlement prior to survey or by inclusion in some reserva- 
tion in which case title did not pass so long as the land was reserved. 
To meet such situations equitably the States were given the right to 
select an equal area of nonmineral, unreserved and unoccupied, 
surveyed public land anywhere within the same State, regardless of 
value. This provision proved of great value, especially where na- 
tional forest reservations embodied great areas of unsurveyed, r^ugh 
mountain land. The theoretical school sections were promptly Bur- 
rendered, and the best of the remaining unreserved public domain 
was selected instead. 

In 1907, in order to facilitate and encourage consolidation and 
management of State lands, the Forest Service agreed to eliminate 
certain agreed-upon areas from the national forests for selection 
by the various States on an "equal area equal value" exchange 
basis. In some States part or most of the selected land was primarily 
valuable for grazing. This was true in part in Montana, Idaho, 
Washington, Wyoming, New Mexico, and other States. 

Likewise, in a few States exchanges of patented State lands within 
the national forests for other unreserved lands of equal area and 
value have aided materially in consolidation. That other States 
have not followed a similar course results in part from a lack of 
permissive legislation. 

It should be added that in most grants, other than those for the 
support of the common schools, the States were permitted to select 
the specified area from any unreserved and unappropriated public 
domain. This was true with the large grants for the various State 
colleges and universities and for many internal improvements. In 
many instances these selections were made in blocks of large size. 

In many of the States it has been the practice to invest the receipts 
from the sale or lease of State land in real-estate mortgages. A 
large part of these investments were made during the dry-farm 
boom and were for amounts which we now know were in excess 
of the actual worth of the land. Although foreclosures have been 
avoided when possible, some States have by this means acquired a 
substantial additional acreage of denuded lands and are destined 
to acquire much more. Here again the land distribution is in small 
units and serves to add to the confusing pattern of State land 


The handling of State range land has been based almost wholly 
on a desire to secure the maximum current revenue. 28 Sale of the 
maximum acreage has been encouraged without regard for the fitness 
of the land for private ownership. Leasing has usually been with 
a view to securing the greatest possible price. No provision has been 
made for the protection of the range and watershed resources 
through wise management. A search through the last annual land 
report of all the range States fails to reveal any mention of the 
condition of the lands. Without exception they are mere financial 
statements made up largely of figures of acreages and dollars. The 
measure of success seems to be based entirely on the ability of those 
responsible for the lands to obtain the maximum revenue from lease 
or sale regardless of the effect on the resource. 

In every case responsibility for administering State lands rests 
with those whose major function is revenue collection. In no in- 
stance has the land been turned over to an agricultural agency. 
Surprising as it may seem, even where a qualified State agricultural 
department is provided it has been permitted to have no part in 
State land management other than that which could be exerted 
indirectly through influence. Clearly, in the interest of good land 
management, the administration of State grazing land should be 
closely tied in with the interrelated agricultural interests. Sound 
land-use management requires this action. 

To sum up: The distribution pattern of State lands is of such 
character as to complicate any attempts at improved range manage- 
ment. No provision at all to control numbers of stock or season of 
use is exercised in leases. Supervision of the use of the land is 
not provided. The responsible agency is primarily interested in 
securing the greatest current revenue through sales or leases. The 
services of existing qualified agencies such as the State agricultural 
departments, the agricultural experiment stations, and the Exten- 
sion Service are little used. 


The land ownership problem within the western Indian reserva- 
tions, especially those of the Northwest, is little if any less compli- 
cated than with the land in other forms of ownership or control. 
Until very recently the objective in Indian administration seems 
to have been to lead or force the Indian to accept the same mode 
of living and standards of civilization that have proved to be satis- 
factory to the white man. This has included the principle of indi- 
vidual, private ownership of land as the ultimate solution. As a 
result, five distinct classes of land titles are intermingled on most 
of the reservations. This situation is fully discussed in another sec- 
tion (pp. 278-285) and therefore will not be repeated here. It should 
be said, however, that the resultant land-ownership pattern has been 
one of the major obstacles to the practice of proper range manage- 
ment on Indian lands. Progress in recent years has been encourag- 
ing and should be more rapid under the broad authority vested in 
the Interior Department by the Wheeler-Howard Act of 1932. 

28 This paragraph refers entirely to range lands and shopld not bo construed as n 
criticism of the management of State forests and parks, which in some instances is very 



Beginning late in the nineteenth century, a few farsighted indi- 
viduals began to realize that for certain lands private ownership 
was neither feasible nor desirable. As a result, partly owing to 
public pressure but more largely to the political astuteness of cer- 
tain conservation leaders, a large area of the remaining public do- 
main has been withdrawn from all forms of entry and reserved 
for public management. Chief among these reservations were those 
creating the national forests, national parks and monuments, and 
power-site withdrawals. Also a great area has been reserved for 
such special purposes as Indian reservations, reclamation sites, stock 
driveways, and mineral reservations. Although there is a material 
amount of overlapping as between various reserves, their general 
extent, as recorded in the 1934 report of the Secretary of the In- 
terior, is shown in the following partial tabulation : 29 


National forests 138, 120, 193 

National parks and monuments 8, 692, 196 

Indian reservations (estimated net) 56,676,535 

Military, naval, and similar reservations (approximately) 1,000,000 

Bird and game refuges 1,512,371 

Stock driveways 9, 771, 386 

Reclamation withdrawals 20, 208, 621 

Water power reserves 5,147,654 

As a residue from the combined effects of the land-disposal policy 
on the one hand and the reservation policy on the other, we still had, 
on July 1, 1934, 165,695,479 acres of unappropriated and unreserved 
public domain, of which 162,188,181 acres were in the range country. 
For the purposes of this section grazing districts as shown in table 
45 are considered to be public domain. 

TABLE 45. Public domain areas in the range States, included and not included 

in "grazing districts" 


in grazing 

Not in- 
eluded in 


Arizona _. . 

1,000 acres 

1,000 acres 

1,000 acres 
13, 073 




15, 676 




7 035 




10, 067 




5 910 

Nevada . . . 


43, 194 

51, 179 

New Mexico 





9 561 


10 240 




21, 953 




Wyoming .. ._ 


12, 825 

14, 071 

Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas- 




65, 523 


162, 188 

On June 28, 1934, the Taylor Grazing Act, which provides for 
some degree of public control of grazing on 80 million acres of the 
public domain, became a law. Although the restriction in acreage 

29 Fig. 62 shows the location and extent of some of the more important classes of 
federally owned or controlled land. 


still leaves more than 85 million acres of Federal public land with- 
out provision for control, it seems inevitable that some sort of man- 
agement will be provided very shortly. This can be provided 
through amendment to the Grazing Act to include the entire area, 
through a division of the area between this and other agencies in the 
interest of consolidation and conservation, or through a combination 
of these measures. Consideration of the good and bad features of 
the Grazing Act will be found elsewhere. It is necessary here to 
present the effects on the land pattern which this immense acreage 
of predominating range land exerts and to describe in some detail 
its condition and the reasons therefor. 

The public domain of the West is made up of remnants left after 
careful culling by many agencies. The homestead, desert home- 
stead, and grazing homestead laws eliminated much of the best of 
the natural range area. State, railroad, and other grants, with their 
provision for lieu selection of indemnity land, still further reduced 
the average quality. The national forests, Indian reservations, re- 
clamation withdrawals, and so forth, each have absorbed grazing 
land better than that which remained. Clear] y the residue of 
165,695,479 acres consists of the least desirable of the original 1,442,- 
220,320 acres. Certainly, it includes the poorest 10 percent of the 
lands west of the Mississippi River. 

Not only is the land poor in quality but its geographic distribu- 
tion often makes administration difficult. Except those semidesert, 
or extremely low-value areas where there was little demand for the 
land, it is scattered in units too small to administer separately and 
badly intermingled with other ownerships. As has already been 
empnasized, absolute lack of proprietorship on the public domain 
resulted in the worst kind of abuse through overgrazing and use 
during improper seasons. Wherever there is any public domain 
used as open range, it is in virtually every instance in a more ad- 
vanced state of depletion than similar land under any other form of 

Along with forage depletion has gone, more often than not, the 
top soil, and along with it the soil fertility. The forage and soil 
resource is generally so badly deteriorated that the land has lost 
not only its grazing values but also its ability to regulate run-off 
and prevent erosion. 


Failure to correct the evils of our Federal range-land policy is 
hard to understand. As early as 1878, Lieutenant Powell, then 
Chief of the Geological Survey, after a rather thorough field exam- 
ination, prepared a report on the necessity for revising our land 
laws to fit conditions in the semiarid West. His report (107} , with 
remarkably clear foresight, pointed the way for future action. He 
recognized the desirability of combining range and irrigable land, 
of the protection of water holes for widest possible use, and of pre- 
venting nonirrigable lands from going into crop agriculture. No 
action was taken. 

In 1898 the American National Livestock Association, well know- 
ing that the range resource was being destroyed, passed resolutions 


asking that the public domain be given protection from overgraz- 
ing. No action was taken. 

In 1903 President Theodore Koosevelt, fresh from his experiences 
in Dakota and Montana, realizing keenly the impaired condition of 
the range resource, appointed a Public Land Commission to investi- 
gate and report. This Commission after much testimony and travel 
reported not only what would happen but what had already hap- 
pened. It recommended, as suggested by many progressive stock- 
men, that the remaining public domain be withdrawn from entry 
and placed under Federal administration with provision for home- 
steading after careful land classification. No constructive action 
was taken. In due time additional laws were passed designed to 
facilitate rather than prevent further damage. 

In 1930 President Hoover appointed the Committee on the Con- 
servation and Administration of the Public Domain. Another 
study was made and another recommendation for placing the public 
domain under administration. In this instance primary emphasis 
was placed on transfer of the land to the States where they so de- 
sired and where proof of ability and intention to protect the re- 
source could be given. Mineral rights were to be reserved to the 
Federal Government. In those States not caring to assume the 
heavy responsibility of rehabilitating these run-down lands, admin- 
istration by the Federal Government was recommended. Also the 
remaining forest lands, high-value watershed lands, and units de- 
sired to block out administrative divisions, were to be added to tha 
existing national forests. It is probably fortunate that several of 
the recommendations of this report w r ere never translated into law. 

Finally in 1935 after a half century of delay and failure to act 
realistically on the public-domain range problem, and after untold 
damage to the range and to the livestock industry had resulted, less 
than half of the remaining public domain was placed in the way of 
administration. The remainder, together with nearly 25 million 
acres of unperfected homestead claims, remains a "no man's land." 

Why the delays ? The reasons are obscure and may be conflicting. 
First of all has been the ever-present fear of oppressive bureaucracy. 
The idea of placing in the hands of some governmental agency the 
final say as to the use of lands which heretofore have been used 
without hindrance, was distasteful to many of the pioneer American 
stockmen. Perhaps in no business has the spirit of rugged individ- 
ualism been more strongly displayed. From the days of the Texas 
trail herds on down to the present depression, the business has been 
highly individualistic. The motto has been, "Let the best man 
win." As a result, the stockmen were unable to unite on a solution 
behind which they could mass their full strength. 

The State rights argument has likewise been used to prevent 
action. Even though the management of State lands more often 
than not has been on a political basis with no apparent regard for 
the permanence of the resource, there has been a strong following 
for transfer of the public domain to the States. That, in their 
present depleted condition, management and rehabilitation of these 
lands would constitute a liability rather than an asset, seems not 
to have been realized. The fact that some receipts were being 
obtained from lands already in State ownership easily led to the 


assumption that the ownership of the public-domain lands would 
increase this revenue. Partisan politics, especially within some of 
the States concerned, has made good use of the State rights principle 
at the expense of the perpetuation of the range and watershed 

Another feature in the delay has been a possible advantage which 
the stockmen have seen in keeping the situation such as to afford 
an opportunity to play one form of Federal control against another. 
That this is true is evidenced by the situation today when the division 
of Federal responsibility between two departments is being so used. 

Always, of course, the question of the fee to be charged for use 
of the range has played a part far beyond its true importance. 
The cost to the stockman of equitable fees, as against insecurity in 
the use of range, losses from overstocking of ranges, and damage 
which results from erosion and unregulated stream flow from such 
areas, should be quickly accepted as the only reasonable alternative. 

Transcending all of these, however, has been the lack of inspired, 
aggressive leadership. Reports have been made, laws have been 
drafted and recommended ; action to correct abuses of existing laws 
has awaited definite and inescapable mandate from Congress; but 
the "punch" required to convert reports and recommendations into 
established policy has not materialized. Always the solution has 
been diluted by the tradition for land disposal and passage of title 
to private ownership. Had there been inspired leadership, such as 
Gifford Pinchot displayed in putting into effect a constructive con- 
servation program for forest lands, the unreasonable delays could 
not have continued. Partisan politics, adherence to outmoded prec- 
edents, suspicions of bureaucracy, pure inertia, unwillingnesses to 
face facts, and lack of appreciation of the worth of the forage re- 
source none of these nor all together would have been able to 
obstruct, as they have done, so obvious a course of action on behalf 
of the public welfare, if such leadership had developed. 


The ownership pattern of range lands within the region where 
the raising of range livestock must be the major industry has grad- 
ually become exceedingly complex and confusing. In general, our 
land-disposal laws were so drawn as to keep ownership units to a 
small size and, except in the case of the national forests, to make 
no provision for continuing use of sufficient additional range to 
support a home unit. That one purpose back of this type of legis- 
lation was the prevention of monopoly in land ownership and con- 
trol in no way alleviates the situation which we now face. 

The only laws which were so framed as to facilitate the control 
of range land in units of manageable size were those providing for 
certain Federal reservations and those which authorized the ex- 
change of private or State lands within these reservations for lands 
in the unreserved public domain. The national forests, and more 
recently the grazing districts, have for one purpose the consolida- 
tion of ownership for better management. Yet, even in this type 



of ownership, management is made more difficult by the titles which 
passed from the Government before the creation of the reserves. 
Railroad grant lands, State school sections, submarginal homesteads, 
and other private land within the boundaries present a problem, the 
solution of which will not be easy. 

A considerable part of the public domain coming within the graz- 
ing districts is in such small tracts and so badly scattered that real 
constructive range management can be had only when and if the 
adjoining areas can be included under the same administration. Fig- 
ure 62 gives a generalized picture of the area included within the 
various Federal reservations and on which grazing use can be con- 
trolled in varying degrees. Actually, much of these areas is still in 
the patchwork pattern shown in figures 63 and 64. 


Characteristic of many a western rang 
county, the actual pattern is even more 
varied than here indicated, since "Cor- 
porate groups", "Nonresident", and so 
on, may include several different owners 
in any one block of land .so labeled. 


Such "crazy quilt" patterns of ownership as 
shown in this small area in Montana and 
in fig. 63 encourage and accelerate range 
depletion by offering a serious handicap 
to good range management. It is obvious 
that units of ownership or control and of 
management practice must bear some 
relation to each other. 

Through the operation of lieu selections, States and railroads in 
selecting indemnity lands have been enabled to effect a considerable 
amount of consolidation. A large part of these selections, however, 
has been in regions where timber values were high and where graz- 
ing values were correspondingly low if not entirely absent. 


Outside the boundaries of the Federal reservations we find a con- 
fusing ownership picture. It has been well described by R. R. Renne, 
of the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station in a recently written 
unpublished manuscript. The description is typical of much of the 
eastern two-thirds of that State. 

Thousands of tracts owned by individuals residing all over the United 
States ; thousands of small farm units interspersed among grazing areas and 
other ownerships ; a large portion of the remaining public domain occurring in 
isolated, disconnected tracts; state holdings scattered, usually including the 
sixteenth and thirty-sixth sections of each township; thousands of acres of 
county land, taken through continued tax delinquency, and occurring haphaz- 
ardly in small units; railroad lands making a checkerboard effect in some 
areas, being much more scattered in others ; insurance company lands scat- 
tered thinly here and there ; investment and mortgage company holdings strung 
out in a disorderly fashion, representing parcels out of larger blocks not yet 
sold; lands foreclosed by land banks and commercial banks occurring at 
random here and there * * * such is the pattern of ownership established 
under a policy of "laissez faire", free individualism, and planless settlement. 
With such a pattern economic instability, overgrazing, and general misuse of 
the land occurs. 

The above description by one who has spent several years in an 
intensive study of the land-ownership problem in our western range 
country is not overdrawn. Figures 63 and 64 present graphically 
the ownership pattern of typical areas in Montana and Colorado. 
Actually the ownership in these areas is immeasurably more compli- 
cated than here shown, as is evident in the necessary grouping on 
these maps of several ownerships in certain of the classes. For ex- 
ample, Federal ownership may include land under the jurisdiction 
of several departments or bureaus ; corporate ownership includes not 
only railroad land but that of all banks, investment houses, insur- 
ance companies, and all other incorporated entities; and private 
ownership is widely distributed among both residents and nonresi- 
dents. Need more be said concerning the seriousness of multiplicity 
of ownership in its effect on range management in a predominantly 
range country where it takes from 3 to 15 acres to support one cow 
for a month? 

Our land policy has had equally serious effects on the resultant 
land use. Generally the land-disposal laws have not provided for 
adequate land classification before settlement was permitted or title 
was passed. It is true that certain laws, specifically the stock-rais- 
ing homestead law, did so provide, but in practice the classification 
was in no sense adequate and did not protect the settlers from an 
uneconomic land selection. Land-hungry applicants, encouraged by 
publicity departments of railroads, real-estate locators, and local 
chambers of commerce with or without previous farm or ranch 
experience were permitted to select at random their quota of land. 
Title was allowed to pass with little regard to the suitability of the 
land for the purpose intended. 

To say that the application of the 160-acre homestead law to the 
nonirrigable lands of the semiarid West was disastrous is no over- 
statement. The dry-farm wheat belt of the short-grass plains was 
settled under this law. The effect of the World War with its result- 
ant peak prices for wheat and other farm commodities, coming dur- 
ing the period of settlement, has been described in an earlier section. 


At this time, too, the dry-farm region was favored with more than 
normal precipitation for a period of several years. As one result 
of this coincidence literally millions of acres of the best natural 
range was turned under with the plow. Then the war ended. 
Wheat surpluses built up. The dry years came on. A large part 
of these wheatlands that once were range were abandoned. 

While no reliable statistics as to the extent of abandonment are 
available, it has been estimated that more than 20 million acres is 
not too high a figure. In Montana, according to unpublished esti- 
mates, nearly 5 million acres, and in Washington more than 1 mil- 
lion acres of such land present a major problem. Homesteads pat- 
ented under the various laws, State lands leased for agricultural 
use, railroad lands, and homesteads not yet proved up on, all suffered 
in varying degree. 

The dry-farm wheat lands of many parts of the West today pre- 
sent a discouraging picture. Immense areas which once supported 
a fine stand of grama and buffalo grass now grow little except worth- 
less weeds. Literally thousands of homes, cheaply constructed to 
be sure, stand dilapidated and abandoned. Other hundreds of 
homes still occupied plainly show a degree of poverty seldom 
equaled in our city slums. Schoolhouses are abandoned, or if still 
used, show the results of an attempt to continue public education 
at a cost per pupil greatly exceeding that in the more prosperous 
communities. Local governments are deeply involved in financial 
difficulties, if not in fact actually bankrupt. It is thus that we pay 
the price of a land settlement that ignores sound planning in the 
use of land. 

The extent of tax delinquency in the range area is not now known. 
Comparable figures for the entire area have not been collected. Sam- 
ple range counties in several States are, however, available to indi- 
cate the extent to which ownership has reverted to the public. Ac- 
cording to R. R. Renne, the county governments of Montana in 
1934 owned 2,526,349 acres (excluding lands within the boundaries 
of incorporated municipalities, highways, rights-of-way, etc.) Sev- 
eral times as much was delinquent 3 or more years and subject to tax 
deed, but because of recent tax moratorium legislation title had not 
been perfected. 

Table 46 indicates for Montana, for which tax data are available, 
the building up of delinquency during recent years. Although it is 
impossible to segregate natural range from cropland, it is well known 
that delinquency is worst on dry-farm wheatland which has 
been abandoned for cropping. The counties in which de- 
linquency is most prevalent are those in which range livestock 
and dry farming have predominated. In the final analysis, tax 
delinquency of abandoned dry-farm land is a range problem. It is 
only through rehabilitation for range use that these lands can again 
be made to produce satisfactorily. It is significant that even dur- 
ing the prosperous years delinquency was serious. In 1928, as shown 
in table 47, more than 15 percent of the range and cropland was so 
listed and by 1933 this had increased to more than 40 percent. 

64946 3( 


TABLE 46. Progress of tax delinquency on range and cropland in Montana 








53, 043, 690 


30, 253 

25 373 


63 452 362 

17 11 

34 179 

28 176 


53 305 504 

22 86 

44 252 

34 650 


52, 871, 826 



46 878 

1932 . .. 

52 313 339 

41 49 

72 801 

54 558 


52 341 924 

40 24 

69 682 

52 388 

TABLE 47. Tax delinquency, by years, in one Colorado county 


Year levied 



Dry farm 



Total de- 



685, 371 

499, 323 



1, 422, 889 


206 075 

635 404 

449 903 

3 142 


1,295 329 


166 824 

523 977 

383 112 

3 240 


1 077 933 


159 657 

539 907 

367, 755 



1, 070, 743 

1928 1__ 


522, 342 

350, 392 





910 873 

2 907,001 

2,050 485 

15, 491 


5, 887, 759 


182 175 

581 400 

410 097 

3 098 


1. 177. 552 








i Even prior to the depression, tax delinquency in this county was a serious problem, as it was in adjoining 
States also. 

That the above situation is not peculiar to any one range State 
is shown in the Colorado yearbook for 1933-34 on page 277. In 
1932 nearly 61 percent of the privately owned farm and ranch land 
(approximately 21,760,000 acres) was delinquent for general prop- 
erty taxes. In 1928 the percentage of delinquency was only 30.4 
percent 'and the acreage involved was 10,679,034 acres. That delin- 
guency in this instance was worst on grazing land and dry-farm lands 
is shown by table 47, which is based on information for one typical 
range county. It is significant that 49.4 percent of the delinquency 
is on range land, and 34.8 percent is on dry-farm land which should 
have remained in grass, while only 15.5 percent is on irrigated crop 
land. Thus 84.2 percent of the tax delinquency in this county is on 
land for which grazing would seem to be the highest use. 

The tax delinquency situation is likewise serious in the range live- 
stock counties of eastern Oregon. As of March 1, 1934, 12 eastern 
Oregon counties in which the range industry is predominant or co- 
dominant with lumbering, owned 674,450 acres of land. Abandon- 
ment of land to the counties for unpaid taxes was far less in arable 
agricultural counties than in the grazing counties. In three range 
counties the acreage of land on which taxes were delinquent 3 or more 
3'ears, but which had not gone to county ownership, increased from 
187,393 acres in 1928 to 1,092,731 acres in 1933. Although an exact 
division between range and submarginal farm land is not possible, 
the delinquency situation is known to be very serious for both classes 
of land. While additional data from sample plot studies in other 
States are available, those given are sufficient to establish the fact 


that on range land and especially on abandoned dry -land tax delin- 
quency is a serious problem. Probably the latter class of land is in 
greatest distress. 

The period of rapid homesteading and expansion of wheat produc- 
tion brought large increases in population. Towns were organized ; 
school districts were created ; counties were divided ; road and high- 
way districts came into being ; new local taxing bodies were initiated 
on every hand. Thus there developed a local government pattern 
designed to serve a relatively dense population. That it was expen- 
sive mattered little during the boom days. Bond issues were easy 
to float. Today, with the population reduced in number (Montana 
suffered 'a 20-percent reduction in the number of farm units between 
1920 and 1930) and with a full realization that, after all, the land 
was intended for grass, the problem of developing a suitable local 
government is acute. 

The need for high-quality, efficient government is immeasurably 
increased by the economic difficulties now facing the range counties. 
The tax base upon which to finance good government is decreasing 
and with each additional tax abandonment the loan on those still 
paying becomes heavier. The inclination to "let the county have 
the land" spreads to owners of better and better land. The solution 
does not rest in providing "cheaper" government but in providing 
better and more efficient government. 

Part of the answer may lie in consolidations of small govern- 
mental units and in careful long-time planning and rehabilitation. 
Besides focusing the attention of the community on the problem of 
good government, consolidation should, througli reduced overhead, 
lower the costs, although it must not be forgotten that it will not 
reduce the combined bonded indebtedness of the units consolidated. 
Thus, through elimination of some of the local governments, there 
is a definite possibility that the functions of government may be 
better performed and at less cost. 

Within this picture of tax delinquency one other important factor 
requires especial consideration. In most of the States lands upon 
which taxes are unpaid ultimately pass to the counties or remain in 
the twilight zone of no ownership until sold. Hence we are building 
up in the range country a "new public domain." Too often, under 
pressure for increased county revenue, and in some instances in 
accordance with State laws, these lands are sold to the highest bidder, 
only to revert again for nonpayment of taxes when the new owner 
realizes their true worth. Thus, these lands shift between county 
and private ownership without regard for their income-producing 
value and in a status to encourage improper use. It is obvious that 
these lands are submarginal for private ownership in the use to 
which they have been put. It is equally clear that under present 
conditions the counties cannot afford to own them. Much range land 
has been depleted to the point where it is now unable to carry its 
share of the cost of government. The abandoned crop land, although 
it was no doubt once first-quality range, has come back to public 
ownership with the forage cover destroyed by plowing and now 
supporting a sparse stand of vegetation of low value for grazing in 
place of the original fine perennial grasses. 

That revegetation by natural means will require an excessive period 
of time is shown by a recent (unpublished) study by E. W. Nelson 



of Montana University Forest School. Table 48, which is taken from 
his report, shows that during the first 5 years after abandonment 
85.7 percent of the cover consisted of worthless and unpalatable 
species. Only 7 percent was grass. Even 16 or more years after 
abandonment it was found that more than 29 percent of the cover 
was made up of unpalatable species, with only 45.4 percent in the 
grass group. It should be noticed, further, that only 3.4 percent of 
this grass cover was blue grama, whereas on adjacent unbroken grass- 
lands 36 percent of the vegetative cover is accounted for by this most 
excellent species. 

TABLE 48. Occurrence of native species on various types of land in Wheatland 

County, Mont. 



Scientific name 


Abandoned plowed land 

1-5 years 

6-10 years 


16 years 
and more 

Blue gnvma 

Bouteloua gracilis 









( \o 






Agropyron smithiL 

Needle and thread 

Stipa comata 

June grass 

Koeleria cristata.. 

Native bluegrass 

Poa spp 

O ther grasses 

Dryland sedges 











Russian thistle 

Salsola kali 






Other annuals . . 


Silver sage -. 

Artemisia frigida 








Snake weed * 

Gutierrezia sarothrae 
Phlox muscoides 



Opuntia polyacantha... 

Total. .. 






Less than 0.5 percent. 

Considered half shrubs. 

Nelson's conclusions as to rate of natural rehabilitation of plowed 
and abandoned dry farms are substantiated by those reached by 
Shantz (126) from a study in Colorado in 1911. In the Escalante 
Valley in southwestern Utah, George Stewart found that the rate of 
recovery of lands last plowed in 1913 was very much slower than 
that determined by Nelson in Montana. 

It is seriously questioned whether private owners can profitably 
hold a class of land which shows so little improvement even after 
many years of abandonment from cropping. Its rehabilitation 
within a reasonable period seems generally to be dependent on arti- 
ficial reseeding. Just how private owners and underfinanced coun- 


ties can undertake a wholesale program of artificial reseeding in a 
region where the climate makes the undertaking extremely hazard- 
ous and until the costs of such treatment can be reduced to much 
less than the value of the land so treated has yet to be answered. 

The problem for the rehabilitation of badly depleted range land 
and the restoration of abandoned dry farm land seems to be one 
for a strong unit of the Government to undertake. 


The complex ownership pattern of range land which has been 
built up and the deterioration and destruction of the range resource 
which has accompanied this process presents a major problem to 
the livestock industry, dependent communities, the States, and the 
Nation. As is shown in discussing integrated agriculture, crop 
farming and range use are inseparable parts of the agriculture of 
the Western States. The extent to which either use is successful 
depends in large part on the degree to which the other can be made 
to contribute toward it. Clearly close coordination is essential to 
the permanent and continuous prosperity of the integrated 

Coordination in use is equally essential to the conservation of the 
high public values which much of this land carries. High-value 
watersheds, critical erosion areas, tracts badly needed for recrea- 
tional use, and key areas for game use have been passed to private 
ownership or abusively used without regard for their need for these 
special services. 

One of the essential features of sustained-yield management is se- 
curity in the right to use the forage resource which may properly be 
harvested from the land. That such security is impossible under an 
ownership pattern such as has been previously described seems clear. 
One small area sufficient for even 150 head of cattle or a small band 
of sheep may be divided in ownership between so many individuals, 
corporations, and agencies that planning for future use is impos- 
sible. The logical user of the range is never sure that some less de- 
pendent competitor will not legally invade his range through pur- 
chase or lease of part of the area. Also, the situation which now 
exists lends encouragement to the "coyote sheep herder", who, by the 
lease of small, widely separated areas, combined with his equal right 
to use such public domain as may remain, feeds his flocks in trespass 
on areas which have been held for special seasonal use, or which pur- 
posely have been lightly grazed as a range rehabilitation measure. 
Thus the usual result is to consider only the present and get the last 
blade of grass every year. Under such treatment range depletion has 
been serious and will continue. 

The effect of dry farming on the range resource has already been 
discussed. The native range forage has been destroyed and has been 
replaced by plant species of little or no forage value. Natural re- 
habilitation will be extremely slow. Unfortunately, these dry farm 
lands are often intermingled with unbroken range lands, thus reduc- 
ing the average carrying capacity of entire units to an extremely 
low level. Ownership is widely distributed, and tax delinquency is 
most serious. Thus, in regions where unsuccessful dry farming has 
been practiced, the problem of range rehabilitation is particularly 


difficult and is made more complicated by the land-ownership situa- 
tion which exists. 

One of the most unfortunate results of the land policy which has 
been followed in the West is the extent to which it has encouraged 
overinvestment in land, and in turn abuse of the range. As home- 
stead entries were allowed and patents were issued the stockman 
who had previously used the range borrowed from the banks to 
buy put the so-called settlers and gave a mortgage on his enlarged 
holdings as security. The increase in owned range did not increase 
the area or productiveness of the range unit which he had previously 
used free of charge as public lands. To meet taxes and interest 
payments on the enlarged ownership, the stockman usually found 
it necessary to increase the size of his flock or herd. The result, al- 
most inevitably, has been overgrazing and range depletion. 

Under the conditions which have been described it is to be expected 
that ranges generally have been depleted. The extent to which 
depletion has gone under the various forms of ownership and con- 
trol should be one guide to future action. It is significant that in 
every major forage type the national-forest ranges are now in better 
condition than those under any other form of control. At the other 
extreme, as might be expected, is the public domain, where no 
administration has been given to range use. 


The tangled and illogical ownership pattern which has arisen 
from the lack of constructive land policy as previously shown, has 
had and still has a serious influence on the perpetuation of the 
range resource. Four problems stand out as the major features 
which require solution. 


Clearly, such intermingling of ownerships as is illustrated by 
figures 63 and 64 is too great a handicap on the development of 
good range management. The situation is made immeasurably more 
acute by the fact that a very high percentage of the lands is held 
by absentee owners who have no personal interest in the community 
welfare other than that of obtaining a return on their investment. 

Another large segment of potential range land widely diffused 
in ownership has been effectively lifted out of production by an 
unsuccessful attempt to grow dry-farm wheat. The economic re- 
habilitation of such land for productive use depends in large part 
on assurance for future good management of the property. Simpli- 
fication of the pattern will be one incentive to better treatment. 

State legislation to facilitate consolidation in some form of public 
ownership, the formation of cooperative grazing districts for ad- 
ministration of certain units, and active participation by the Re- 
settlement Administration of the Federal Government should all be 
considered as possible aids to the solution of this problem. A more 
logical ownership pattern is fundamental to permanent range 
rehabilitation and maintenance. 



The distribution of the grazing resource in such a way as to avoid 
monopolistic tendencies, without dividing it up in such small units 
as to destroy its social value, is another major problem. Ideally and 
ultimately the range resource will probably contribute most if made 
to support the maximum number of satisfactory home units. This 
does not necessarily mean individual ownership of sufficient ranch 
and range property to support the number of stock required to meet 
this objective. The system of distribution of grazing privileges in 
effect on the national forests offers one solution. Under this system 
dependency of the outfit on the use of range forage, the commensur- 
ability of owned land on which supplemental feeds are raised or 
which is used as winter range, and the number of stock owned each 
are considered. 

The livestock requirements for an economic unit will vary greatly. 
In regions where range livestock is the sole means of support, the 
ideal family unit may call for about 150 to 200 head of cattle or a 
small band of sheep. Where diversified farming is practiced, pro- 
vision to graze only a few head of stock may be essential to supple- 
ment the other farm income. In certain regions where successful 
management is contingent on running a large outfit it may be en- 
tirely proper to recognize such ownership. Always the effect of 
size of outfit on the cost of producing meat, wool, and hides must 
be given fair consideration. The controlling principle in each de- 
cision should be the support of the maximum number of people at 
an acceptable standard of living. If this objective can be ap- 
proached, the cost of rebuilding the depleted ranges can be justified. 


One of the problems of range-land ownership is that of taxation. 
The extent of tax delinquency in the range country establishes the 
fact that, in their present run-down condition, much range land 
cannot carry the load. It is significant that, generally, on those 
properties where good range management has been practiced the 
taxes have been paid. Certainly a part of the solution of the range- 
land tax problem rests on rehabilitation for maximum production, 
but the ranges are not yet rehabilitated and taxes are payable each 

Eange lands must, as a matter of course, pay their full share of 
the cost of good government. Their failure to do so in recent years 
is so greatly influenced by the effects of the lack of good manage- 
ment and by the delinquency of intermingled lands improperly used 
for crop agriculture that thoroughly reliable conclusions are impos- 
sible. It seems probable that the taxes on these lands are dispropor- 
tionally high in terms of real income value. This much is clear. A 
comprehensive analysis of the tax problem on the range area should 
be undertaken, and in the meantime serious consideration should be 
given to the possibilities of revamping the local government organi- 
zation to fit the population pattern which exists. Certainly some 
means must be found to prevent range lands from being given the 
abusive treatment commonly accorded to tax delinquent or reverted 



Finally, regardless of who owns the land, full recognition must 
be given to the fact that range forage is an agricultural crop. That 
this fact has not been appreciated is evident. A large part of fed- 
erally owned range lands are administered outside the Department 
of Agriculture. State and county lands have been administered by 
agencies whose primary responsibility is revenue collection, and the 
State agricultural services have used little if any. Private lands, in 
most instances, have been "mined" rather than cropped for forage. 
Until such time as the natural laws of crop production and plant 
growth are followed in range management, restoration is not to be 

Correction of the bad range-management practices will be aided 
by placing responsibility for range restoration with those agencies 
engaged in the solution of agricultural problems. Not only is this 
true for Federal and State lands but for large tracts in corporate 
ownership as well. 


By C. L. FORSLING, Director, Appalachian Forest Experiment Station; FBED P. 
CRONEMILLER, Assistant Regional Forester, California Region; PERCY E. 
MEIJS, Forester, Northern Region; AENOLD R. STANDING, Range Examiner, 
Intermountain Region ; AJLVA A. SIMPSON, Associate Director, Plains Shelter- 
belt; and REX KING, Assistant Regional Forester, Southwestern Region 

The western range picture is not entirely unfavorable. There are 
areas on which action has been taken or is in course of being taken, 
to stop depletion, improve existing conditions, and stabilize the use 
of the range. In the national forests is found the greatest single 
attempt to turn back the tide of depletion and to undertake planned 
use of the resources. Progress is being made on the Indian reserva- 
tions. Action has been started in the grazing districts on 66 million 
acres of what until recently was open public domain. Here and 
there in the West are found privately owned range lands which have 
been carefully utilized and the forage resources wisely conserved. 
These instances of deliberate management are guideposts pointing 
the way toward a sounder range livestock agriculture. 


Of the present area of approximately 133,875,000 acres of feder- 
ally owned land in the national forests of the western range States, 
about 82,538,000 acres, or 62 percent, of the total is used for grazing 
of domestic livestock. Upon these lands approximately 1,400,000 
cattle, 30,000 horses, and 6,152,000 sheep and 9,000 goats are grazed 
regularly during several months of each year. 30 These permitted 
livestock, which represent 12 percent of all the cattle and 23 percent 
of all the sheep in the 11 western States, are owned by more than 
25,000 farmers, settlers, and ranchers, most of whom reside in or 
near the forests. 

The national forests represent the initial effort of the Federal 
Government to undertake on a major scale the management of land 
resources which it was in the general interest to retain in public 
ownership. Extensive areas of the range which was included had 
already been seriously depleted by the free-for-all use which had 
gone on for several decades prior to the establishment of an admin- 
istrative agency. The situation in many respects was not unlike 
that on the open public domain today. The mad scramble for range 
and the competition between the large livestock operator who had 
preempted the open range and the home builder who was endeavor- 
ing to get a start was at the expense of the grazing resources and 
the orderly development of struggling new communities. 

Although the guiding motive in the establishment of the national 
forests was the conservation of timber and the protection of water- 

30 Exclusive of calves under 6 months and of lambs. The average grazing season for 
cattle is 5.7 months, for horses 5.5 months, for sheep 3.3 months, and for goats 5.7 




sheds, 31 conservation of the other resources was implied, and the 
forage crops produced on them have received equal consideration in 
protection, development, and use along with all other resources. 
The basic aim in the management of these lands has been to de- 
velop sustained yield and to make all of the resources contribute 
in the fullest degree, consistent with the broader public needs, to 
the sound social and economic development of the dependent popu- 
lation. On the whole, it was an attempt toward planned use of 
land and a challenge to the laissez-faire doctrine in land occupa- 
tion and use in the United States. 

Today, after 30 years of administration under the Department 
of Agriculture, not all of the national-forest ranges have been re- 
stored to their virgin capacity, but real progress has been made. 
Wholesale depletion has been checked and marked recovery is the 
rule. The national-forest ranges, on the whole, as shown in table 
49, are in approximately 70 percent of virgin condition. This fig- 
ure compares favorably with figures elsewhere presented of 33 
percent of virgin condition on the grazing districts and public 
domain and 49 percent on private range lands. 

TABLE 49. Degree of depletion of virgin range in plant types on the national 






Plant type 

area 1 

ate de- 

rial de- 



















Tall grass . 




Short grass 






Pacific bunchgrass 






Semidesert grass 














Southern desert shrub 






Salt-desert shrub. 



















Open forests 







Total and average 

87, 954 






i Includes acres of usable range closed to grazing for various purposes. 

Earlier presentation of trends of depletion has shown that dur- 
ing the past 30 years the average trend has been one of improvement 
on 77 percent of the national forest range area and on only 5 per- 
cent has there been an appreciable decline. During the last 5 years, 
however, owing to drought and depression, the improvement trend 
has been offset by a slightly downward trend on 19 percent of the 
area. The net improvement may be summarized in one figure for 
the period from 1910 to 1934 forage production on the present 
usable range on the national forests has increased 19 percent. 32 

81 For a discussion of the timber resources and watershed values in the national forests, 
see A National Plan for American Forestry (154) , PP. 173, 298. 

82 The number of livestock grazed on the national forests in terms of animal months 
of use was actually reduced about 7 percent between 1910 and 1934. However, during 
that same period a net area of approximately 10,000,000 acres, mostly grazing land, has 
been excluded from within the national forests. Approximately 2,250,000 acres, most of 
it the very best grazing land, has been alienated under the Forest Homestead Act of 

June 11, 1906. Grazing capacity amounting to an equivalent of approximately 2,000,000 


The net social and economic benefits which have been derived 
from the policy of administration of the national forests, are more 
difficult to appraise in specific terms. Nevertheless the benefits have 
been positive and real. Almost as many livestock are grazed and 
as many dependent stock growers use the range now as a quarter of 
a century ago. Forage on national-forest range is more dependable 
than on any other class of land. Uses for other purposes than for 
grazing have greatly increased. National-forest ranges to a large 
degree have been correlated with other classes of agricultural land. 

It is proposed to review briefly the circumstances and vital forces 
which led to the establishment of the national forests and the initial 
aims and objectives of administration; describe briefly the action 
taken to implement these aims and objectives and to appraise the net 
results and existing problems. Such an analysis of accomplishments 
in the initial experiment with Federal land management may be 
of significance in further developing a program for future action 
on all publicly owned range lands. 


The initial approach to conservation of the range resources was 
an outgrowth of the concern over the depletion of forests and injury 
to watersheds. Alarm over forest destruction as a national problem 
was expressed as early as 1819 (77). There was, however, a long 
delay before any positive action was taken. In the meantime, legis- 
lation was directed principally toward disposal of land. The Sec- 
retary of the Interior vainly requested appropriations with which 
to enforce laws against illegal cutting of timber on the public do- 
main. From 1878 to 1891 there was much debate in Congress over 
Government timberlands, but no action was taken until the passage 
of the act of March 3, 1891, which authorized setting apart forest 
reserves by Executive order out of parts of the public domain 
whether wholly or partly covered with timber. However, progress 
was slow for several years after the enactment of this statute and 
up to 1897, only 19 reservations had been set aside aggregating 
18.933,280 acres in area. 

Efforts were then somewhat stimulated following the report of 
an investigation the Secretary of the Interior had requested the 
National Academy of Sciences to make of publicly owned forest 
lands. Among other things he asked that investigations be made 
concerning the influence of forest upon climate, soil, and water con- 
ditions. The report of representatives of the Academy dated May 1, 

acres of range is reserved for use by game on the total of over 100 State and Federal 
game preserves. The extension of tree growth on the 42,000,000 acres of grazed timber 
land has reduced grazing capacity in an amount equivalent to the withdrawal from 
grazing use of 4,000,000 acres of good grazing land. Approximately 4,000,000 acres of 
usable range land have been actually closed to grazing between 1910 and 1934, in 
the interest of watershed protection, game, recreational use, timber growth, and for other 
purposes. Thus the total range area available to livestock has been reduced the equi- 
valent of 22 percent during the 25-year period. Since the land eliminated or taken out 
of use was slightly better than average in grazing capacity the area now being used, in 
order to take care of the present number of stock, has increased 19 percent in grazing 
capacity. This does not take into account the additional facts that there has been a 
very large increase in number of game animals outside the game preserves; that in 
there were only 75 lambs per hundred grown sheep grazed and now there are 95 
lambs for each hundred grown sheep, that the number of calves under 6 months have 
increased proportionally ; and that, due to improvement in breed and quality, the animals 
are larger and heavier and therefore each animal now consumes more feed than 


1897, among other things recorded widespread and serious damage 
to ranges and watersheds by unrestricted grazing (91 ) . By June 30, 

1898, 30 reserves had been established including 40,719,474 acres. 
Progress continued to be slow, however, for some years, and mean- 
while much timber, range, and watershed land which should have 
been retained in public ownership passed into private hands. 

The fight for conservation took on real life in 1901 under the 
leadership of President Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot. 
The issue was broadened into a fight for the protection of the in- 
terests of the people against monopoly as well as for the conservation 
of the resources. Big interests had shown their power to grab 
natural resources, to monopolize business, and to control politics. 

The situation with respect to grazing livestock on the range helped 
to, stimulate action. At the opening of the twentieth century live- 
stock production in the West was typically a public-lands industry. 
It had grown great on free range. Severe competition for use of 
the range had developed between cattlemen and sheepmen and be- 
tween them and the homesteader. Nomadic flocks and herds from 
distant wintering and breeding grounds increasingly swept the high 
ranges. The "tramp stockman" moved from one region to another, 
pressing in ahead of the local residents in a scramble to get the feed. 
The homemaker was ground between the upper and the nether 
millstones. The whole situation was precarious, chaotic, and in many 
ways economically unsound. Many of the more powerful stockmen 
sought ways to establish and perpetuate their monopoly of the 
range. It all tended to retard settlement and community develop- 
ment. To Roosevelt it was a question of a square deal and economic 
freedom for the people of the West. 

The Roosevelt principles gored the monopolistic ox, and the 
opposition w^as expressed in pressure for eliminations of land from 
the forest reserves and finally in the withdrawal of authority for 
creating national forests by Executive order in most of the States. 
For obvious reasons the powerful interests wished to retain freedom 
from interference. Nevertheless, the fight against monopoly and 
exploitation and for the protection of public interest for the "greatest 
good to the greatest number in the long run" was partially successful. 
During the time Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House, 148 
million acres were withdrawn for national forests, bringing the total 
area reserved up to 194.5 million acres. This placed most of the 
remaining public timberland and most of the more important water- 
sheds of the West under Government control, and a positive system 
of administration was initiated. However, the plan for national 
ranges which Roosevelt had proposed in 1905 (111} failed to 

Regulated use of the forest reserves was not authorized until the 
passage of the act of June 4, 1897. Under this law the first rules 
and regulations were written which provided that 

The pasturing of livestock on the public lands in forest reservations will not 
be interfered with, so long as it appears that injury is not being done to the 
forest growth, and the rights of others are not thereby jeopardized. 

The grazing of sheep, however, was prohibited in all forest reser- 
vations, except in Oregon and Washington, where the "abundant 
rainfall of the Cascade and Pacific coast ranges make rapid renewal 
of herbage and undergrowth possible." 


There was almost no development of conservation policies. The 
major function of the General Land Office of the Department of the 
Interior, which had most of the responsibility for the forest reserves, 
was the administration of the homestead and other land-disposal 
laws, a function hardly compatible with the development of a con- 
servation policy or organization. The tenor of the manual of regu- 
lations of April 12, 1902, for example, was that of legality and mini- 
mum carrying out of the law. Officials of the Land Office in Wash- 
ington had no first-hand knowledge of the reserves. Business was 
largely handled from Washington and great delays were encountered. 
The instructions to the public were that 

when the applicant fails to hear of his application in a reasonable time, say 
30 days, he should address letters both to the Supervisor and to the Commis- 
sioner of the General Land Office, Washington, D. C. 

Due to limited authority and divided responsibility, the mechanics 
of administration were seriously hampered by the resulting "red 
tape" which greatly annoyed the people of the West who needed to 
use the resources of the forest reserves. 

Appointments to administrative positions on the forest reserves 
under the Department of the Interior were principally political. 
Not until December IT, 1904, through the efforts of the Society of 
American Foresters and other organizations, was the personnel 
placed under Civil Service. As would be expected under a system 
of political appointments with no sense of security in office, low 
salaries and little chance for promotion, well-qualified men were 
discouraged from seeking employment (77). 

There was no technical forest or range-management organization 
except for a 3-year period beginning in 1901 when the Forestry 
Division of the Department of the Interior was created. Its purpose 
was to cooperate with the General Land Office in the administration 
of the forest reserves. Since such a plan of organization was not 
basically sound, hostility developed (28) and the entire technical 
force resigned in 1903. With the exception of this group the con- 
servation thought was entirely within the Bureau of Forestry in the 
Department of Agriculture. There existed the anomalous situation 
of forest administration in a division of one department and of all 
the foresters in a bureau of another. President Roosevelt and the 
Secretary of the Interior urged Congress to transfer the adminis- 
tration of the forest reserves to the Bureau of Forestry in the 
Department of Agriculture and this was accomplished by the act 
of February 1, 1905. In 1907 the forest reserves were renamed the 
"national forests." 


The broad aims and objectives in the administration of the na- 
tional forests were laid down by Secretary of Agriculture James 
Wilson in a letter of February 1, 1905, to the Chief of the Forest 
Service in which he said : 

You will see to it that the water, wood, and forage of the reserves are con- 
served and wisely used for the benefit of the home builder, first of all, upon 
whom depends the best permanent use of lands and resources alike. * * * 
All land is to be devoted to its most productive use for the permanent good of 
the whole people and not for the temporary benefit of individuals or companies. 


All of the resources * * * are for use, and this use must be brought about 
in a thoroughly prompt and businesslike manner, under such restrictions only 
as will insure the permanence of these resources. The permanence of the re- 
sources * * * is therefore indispensable to continued prosperity. * 
The continued prosperity of the agricultural, lumbering, mining, and livestock 
interests is directly dependent upon a permanent and accessible supply of water, 
wood, and forage * * * (made available) under businesslike regulations 
enforced with promptness, effectiveness, and common sense. 

Local questions will be decided upon local grounds; the dominant industry 
will be considered first, but with as little restriction to minor industries as 
may be possible. 

Regarding this letter it has been said (28) : 

A careful perusal of the above is commended, not so much because of its 
terse common sense as because of its continuous existence to the present 
moment as the standing general orders under which the forest work of the 
country has gone and still goes forward. 

The administration of the national forests provides for the fol- 
lowing : 

1. Conservation and use. Perpetuation of all of the resources 
through wise use, protection, and development. 

2. Multiple use. Correlation in management and use of the differ- 
ent resources in order to obtain the highest net benefits from the 
combined resources of the land. 

3. Equal opportunity. Protection of the settler and home builder 
against monopoly and unfair competition in the use of resources. 

4. Integration with agriculture. Relating the use of range and 
other resources on the national forests to farm-grown forage crops, 
range, and other agricultural resources in a manner to obtain the 
highest benefits from the several classes of land. 

5. Stability of use. Safeguarding livestock agriculture by afford- 
ing maximum stability in the use of the range resources, consistent 
with the objects of the national forests. 

6. Cooperation with users. Provision for livestock growers, other 
users, and local governments to have advisory voice in the administra- 
tion of the national forests which they use. 

7. Local administration. A businesslike, decentralized, and techni- 
cal administration designed and organized to settle local problems 
according to local conditions without delay. 

The first regulations incorporating these basic policies were put into 
effect on July 1, 1905, except for an advisory voice, which came later. 
The regulations have been modified from time to time to meet new 
conditions, for clarification of purpose, and for better definition of 
their application. 


The national forests contain a variety of resources or values, includ- 
ing timber, water, range forage, game, fishing, and recreation. Rarely 
is there an instance where two or more of these values are not asso- 
ciated on any given tract of land. Some one may be dominant but 
others are nearly always present in an amount sufficient to require 
consideration in land management. This association of resources in- 
jects the necessity for "multiple use" management or management 
which will yield the highest social and economic benefit from all of the 
resources combined. Accomplishment of multiple use is one of the 
important objectives of national -forest land management. Obviously 


its attainment involves due consideration for local and present-day 
needs, as well as long-range planning to meet the future requirements. 

For example, 43 million acres, or approximately half of the na- 
tional-forest range, is forest land, where commercial timber produc- 
tion will have to be the dominant use. The number of recreational 
visitors to the western national forests have increased steadily from 
more than 3 million in 1917 to over 38 million in 1934. The number of 
deer, elk, moose, mountain sheep, antelope, bear, and other big game 
animals on range lands in the national forests increased from 613,000 
in 1914 to 1,084,000 in 1934 ; upland game birds and fur bearers also 
have increased during this period. 

Ordinarily multiple use has been accompanied with only minor 
sacrifices in the use of any one resource. Exclusion of other uses is 
unnecessary and undesirable except where the highest public good can 
be attained in no other manner. Of the total usable area of 87,954,307 
acres of range land in the national forests, only 1,410,928 acres, or 1.6 
percent of the total usable acreage, has been closed to grazing for 
highly intensive recreational use ; 2,829,441 acres, or 3.2 percent, has 
been closed for game ranges; 821,156 acres, or 0.9 percent, for water- 
shed protection ; 210,344 acres, or 0.2 percent, for protection of timber ; 
and 144,329 acres, or 0.2 percent, for other purposes. The total ex- 
cluded range amounts to only 6.1 percent of the total usable range 
area. On the remaining 93.9 percent of land the various uses, includ- 
ing grazing, are coordinated with each other. 

One of the chief requirements in multiple-use management has 
been to foresee the needs and gradually adjust the various uses to 
meet them. Livestock seldom can be removed on short notice with- 
out sacrifice by the dependent user. However, sudden adjustments 
have rarely been necessary. 


For prompt and efficient handling of business to promote the solu- 
tion of local problems upon local grounds, the Forest Service is 
organized on a basis of decentralized authority. Forest officers are 
located among the people they serve in order to be constantly in 
touch with local conditions. The actual job of administration of the 
range and other resources rests in the forest supervisor and his 
rangers assigned to each of the 105 national forests in the Western 
States. The people in the local communities transact their business 
with either the forest ranger or the forest supervisor. Only remote 
users must deal by letter or by occasional contact. /'Our ranger" is 
a term applied by many people in western communities in referring 
to the Forest Service official with whom they deal. 

The character of administration and technical nature of the work 
emphasizes the need for a properly qualified personnel chosen and 
trained for the duties they have to perform. Tractically all forest 
officers are "career men" who have chosen some line of forestry work 
as a life profession. Kecruited through the civil service, candi- 
dates for examinations must show adequate training and experi- 
ence in forest or range work. The education of the newly pledged 
forest officer is further advanced by training schools, study courses, 


assignments under senior officers qualified to develop younger men, 
transfers from one type of job to another, and by experience on the 
job. Assignment to range management is dependent upon aptitude 
and special qualifications for the work. 

Under national-forest policy, users are entitled to exercise freedom 
in the use of the national forests in accordance with the established 
rules and regulations, and to be heard on all matters affecting their 
own or the public welfare. Through the free exchange of ideas most 
problems are harmoniously settled on the ground. 

In order further to facilitate dealing with various local problems, 
the organization of national-forest users into associations is officially 
recognized and encouraged. Advisory boards are elected by the as- 
sociation membership and these receive notice of proposed action and 
have an opportunity to be heard. Over TOO livestock associations 
have been organized by users of national-forest ranges and many of 
these local associations are affiliated with the State associations and 
these, in turn, with national associations which deal with the Forest 
Service on matters of State- and Nation-wide importance. Grazing 
boards, created upon the request of the majority of a group of 
national-forest users, receive suggestions and complaints regarding 
the administration of grazing, investigate all facts relating thereto, 
and assist, advise, and consult with forest officers on matters of 
general interest to the permittees. 

Range users, however, are usually outnumbered by others inter- 
ested in watershed protection, recreation, wildlife, timber, mineral 
development, and a variety of minor uses, upon which a substantial 
part of the support of many communities is dependent. The people 
so involved are as fully entitled to a voice in national-forest adminis- 
tration as are the stockgrowers. Recognition of these interests is 
also provided for in the national-forest regulations. Counsel and 
assistance are also invited from city, county, and State governments 
concerned either directly or indirectly with national-forest adminis- 

With so many interests involved it becomes the task of the Forest 
Service, as the public agency concerned, to harmonize conflicts and 
arbitrate differences between groups or individuals. The Forest 
Service also has the duty and the responsibility to protect the public 
interest whenever there is difference of opinion regarding established 
national-forest policy. Many of the latter cases arise out of the 
inclination of some users to disregard the requirements for range 
conservation in order to satisfy their immediate needs. In such 
instances the Forest Service proceeds on the basis of the best infor- 
mation available and, with due consideration of all the circumstances, 
adopts the procedure which will lead in the direction of the "greatest 
good to the greatest number in the long run." 

It is the aim of the Forest Service always to settle locally all 
matters submitted for consideration. However, appeal may be taken 
successively from the decision of the forest ranger, forest supervisor, 
regional forester, and Chief of the Forest Service to the Secretary 
of Agriculture, with whom final regulatory authority rests. 



The collection of a reasonable fee for the use of national-forest 
range is nothing more or less than the recognition of the common 
business principle of paying for values received. The intrinsic 
worth of the forage and the stability afforded the livestock agricul- 
turist in the use of the range have definite values. Not to collect 
fees from the range users would result in a subsidy to this group 
as compared to the producer who operates on privately owned or 
leased range or farm land. The collection of fees is also justified 
as a means of offsetting the cost of administration and the construc- 
tion of improvements on the range by the Government, both of which 
directly benefit the range user. Nevertheless, almost continuous 
pressure has been brought by the livestock interests using the range 
to keep the fees as low as possible. 

Collection of fees was first provided for by the grazing regulations 
of July 1, 1906. The principle of competitive bidding was not 
adopted because it was early recognized that to do so would be dis- 
advantageous to the small operator and lead to instability in agricul- 
ture. The minimum charge for summer grazing was first fixed at 
5 to 8 cents per head for sheep and 20 to 35 cents for cattle and 
horses. The regulation prescribing these fees provided that as the 
conditions of the range improved and the demand for permits war- 
ranted it, the charge for grazing would be increased gradually in 
accordance with the advantages enjoyed by the permittees in the 
different localities. The last increase followed a detailed appraisal 
of national-forest ranges begun in 1921 to establish the fees on a 
parity with commercial rates. 

In this appraisal the rates paid on similar leased lands and the 
cost of owning grazing land, all of which are determined more or 
less by natural economic forces, were used as a base. Adjustments 
in the base rates were made for factors affecting grazing value, such 
as type of forage, topography, weights and losses of livestock, and 
distance to market. The resultant charges proposed, therefore, 
varied with the factors inherent in the range. After strong opposi- 
tion to the general increase by stockmen, the Secretary of Agricul- 
ture designated a stockman to review the appraisal who recom- 
mended the increase to commercial basis less 25 percent. The Sec- 
retary approved the recommendation and ruled that the increase in 
fees be applied 25 percent a year beginning in 1928 and become 
fully effective in 1931. 

The extreme low prices of livestock in 1931, however, presented a 
new problem and fees were readjusted to vary from year to year in 
accordance with the market prices of livestock during the previous 
year. If the basis is correct the average fee paid over a long period 
should approximately equal the adjusted commercial rate. Under 
this readjustment the fees paid into the United States Treasury for 
grazing on the national forests amounted to an average of $1,359,730 
per annum during the 5-year period ending June 30, 1935. Twenty- 
five percent of the fees are paid to the States in which they are 
collected, for road and school purposes, and an additional 10 per- 
cent was spent for the construction of roads and trails in the 
national forests. 

6494636 18 



In order to maintain the basic resource and accomplish the high- 
est degree of sustained use of range forage, the Forest Service ap- 
plies the best known principles and practices of range management. 
To do so is in the interest of the stockman because it maintains the 
basic resource upon which livestock production is dependent. It 
substitutes the policy of stability in the long run for the former 
practice of exploitation of the resources for immediate gains. 

Originally, the individual owner and the Forest Service started 
even in their attempts at range management both had to depend 
on "rule-of-thumb." Meager consideration had previously been 
given to range management in the United States or elsewhere. Little 
was known except in the most general way, for example, about the 
relative value for grazing of the various native range-plant species, 
their ability to withstand grazing, their requirements for growth 
and reproduction, the circumstances under which best to use them, 
the ability of the soil to produce them, and all the other factors 
which together determine grazing capacity, proper season of use, 
adaptability of the range to different classes of stock, requirements 
for sustaining the production of forage, how to maintain the stabil- 
ity and fertility of the soil, and how to maintain desirable conditions 
of stream flow. Basic knowledge of this character was essential to 
determine how best to use and maintain the range. It was apparent 
also that a higher sustained grazing capacity of the range could be 
attained if there could be developed and applied in a practicable and 
skillful way a better adjustment of grazing to the natural biological 
laws governing plant growth, securing a more even distribution of 
livestock, and a better utilization of the forage. 

Various steps were taken to meet this need for a more scientific 
range management. The assistance and advice of experts in the 
other Bureaus of the Department of Agriculture were enlisted. Ad- 
ministrative officers of the Forest Service began to make investiga- 
tions and to build on their experience. Stockmen were called upon 
freely for advice on practical phases. In 1911 range research was 
started in the Forest Service. Some of the agricultural colleges and 
universities, with encouragement from the Forest Service, modified 
or broadened curricula to provide training in related subjects and 
to offer courses and conduct research in range management. Thus 
over the years with aid of research by Federal and State agencies, 
educational institutions, and tried experience and systemization of 
methods in the Forest Service, a reasonably comprehensive science 
and practice of range management is in process of development 
for improving, maintaining, and utilizing the range resources. Most 
of the research work is now conducted by the 6 western regional 
forest and range experiment stations at 12 branch field stations sit- 
uated in the more important range types both on and off the 
national forests, and includes studies both in range management 
and the influence of grazing on soil, timber growth, erosion, run-off, 
and stream flow. The results of this research have been widely 
applied on the national forests, and to some extent on other ranges, 
along the lines indicated in the following paragraphs. 



So gradually may improvement or decline of the range take place 
that even persons in constant contact with the range are not able 
by ordinary observation to detect profound alterations. Obviously 
the sum total of changes over a period of years may be noted, but 
it may then be too late to repair damage without drastic action. 
Sample plots on the range actually mapped and recorded at regular 
intervals according to approved methods, serve as reliable checks 
less subject to error than human judgment and memory. More than 
6,400 of these have been established and are being recorded reg- 
ularly to detect range trends in western national-forest ranges. Ap- 
proximately one-third of these are check plots fenced against graz- 
ing for use in estimating trends on grazed range. The actual records 
from these plots serve many useful purposes in settling problems 
to the satisfaction of both forest officers and livestock owners. 


Keeping numbers of stock within the sustained grazing capacity 
of the range has been one of the most important as well as one of 
the most difficult undertakings in range management on the national 
forests. Grazing capacity differs on different ranges and on different 
parts of the same range, depending upon the character, quantity, and 
forage value of the vegetation, the character of the soil, the length 
and character of the growing season, the period of grazing, the 
extent and degree of depletion, also the ease with which livestock can 
get over the range, especially as influenced by topography, dense 
brush and timber, and the distribution of water. Much depends 
also upon the kind of range management, since the number of stock 
that can be grazed on a well-managed range will exceed the number 
on the same range when poorly managed. Grazing capacity on a 
given range also varies from year to year and over one period of 
years with another, depending upon vicissitudes of climatic condi- 
tions, gradual changes in vegetation, and other factors. 

It has been necessary in national-forest range management to keep 
accurate check on the number of stock actually grazed, the period 
of use, how closely different parts of the range are utilized each 
year, the extent to which the range is properly grazed, and whether 
or not the range is declining, improving, or remaining unchanged. 
With this knowledge it has been possible to make necessary adjust- 
ments from time to time on individual ranges, in order to conform 
the number of stock to the grazing capacity, and hence to maintain 
the forage crop which is basic to sustained livestock production. 


Correcting improper seasonal use, whereby stock was turned onto 
the range as soon as the vegetation began to grow, has been a major 
step in decreasing range depletion. Investigations showed that early 
spring is a critical period in plant growth, that higher yields are 
obtained for the season as a whole and there is less damage to the 
vegetation if grazing is delayed until plant growth is well started 
in the spring (116). Of significance in mountainous range also is 


the fact that plant growth is delayed from 10 to 14 days with 
approximately each 1,000 feet of rise in elevation. In the various 
range units and elevational zones seasonal use has been adjusted 
according to the average dates on which the forage plants are ready 
for grazing as determined by records of plant growth built up over 
a period of years for many ranges. 

Degree of utilization at the close of the grazing season also has 
been found to be an important criterion in range management on 
most national-forest ranges. The precipitation is poorly distributed 
through the grazing season, many of the better grasses and weeds 
are of the "bunch" growth habit and do not spread vegetatively ; 
the soil usually is not resistant to heavy trampling and consequently 
forage growth does not withstand close grazing. Further research 
is needed to ascertain the degree of utilization which may be applied 
with impunity to important individual range species. Pending fur- 
ther findings the safety rule is used of aiming to leave unutilized 
at the end of the grazing season in average or normal years, from 
20 to 30 percent of the forage volume of the more important forage 
species well distributed over the range. 

Of the 4,281 cattle and horse allotments and 4,872 sheep allotments 
on the national forests, 88 percent are now considered to have satis- 
factory seasonal use. On many of the remaining ranges needed 
seasonal-use adjustments have not been made because of the lack of 
sufficient spring or fall range either inside or outside the national 
forests. In these cases it has been necessary to practice lighter 
stocking, or completely rest the range after the spring grazing 


In order to avoid waste of feed or damage, cattle and sheep when- 
ever practicable have been changed about so that individual ranges 
are utilized by the class of livestock to which the range is best 
adapted. Character of topography, plant species, the presence of 
poisonous plants obnoxious to one kind of stock but not to another, 
and distribution of watering places are guides that have been studied 
on national forests to determine the proper class of stock to graze. 
However, the character of the supplemental winter range or forage 
supply, the nature of individual livestock enterprises, or other impor- 
tant factors sometimes outweigh the desirabliity of suiting the class 
of stock to the range. Range protection in these cases has involved 
lighter stocking or shorter grazing seasons. 


Systems of grazing have been developed to insure natural reseed- 
ing to maintain and improve the forage stand. Range plants which 
reproduce chiefly from seed require opportunity, at least in occasional 
years, to mature and disseminate a seed crop if the stand is to be 
maintained. Artificial reseeding has been found, because of expense 
and lack of species suitable to range conditions, to be less satisfactory 
than natural revegetation, except in extreme cases. 

The deferred and rotation system (114) developed by the Forest 
Service is well adapted to meet natural reseeding requirements on 
ranges used throughout the growing season. Under this system a 


given range unit is divided into from three to five subunits of 
approximately equal grazing capacity. Grazing is deferred on one 
of the subunits until after the seed of the more important range 
plants is matured and disseminated, after which the subunit is grazed 
to utilize the forage and aid, through trampling, to bring the seed 
into contact with the soil. The next year a second area is deferred 
and grazing on the first is delayed as late as possible to afford oppor- 
tunity for the young seedlings to become established. Each subunit 
is deferred in rotation in subsequent years. This system operates 
very successfully on sheep ranges ; on cattle range fencing or natural 
barriers to subdivide the range into subunits are necessary. It also 
fits in well with livestock-production practices where lambs or cattle 
are marketed direct from the range in the fall, because it affords 
fresh range for grazing prior to marketing. 

Another system introduced by the Forest Service is conservative 
grazing throughout the grazing season to the point where in average 
years, at least 25 percent of the important plants well distributed 
over the range will attain seed maturity. It necessitates maintain- 
ing even distribution of livestock. It is simpler to apply than the 
deferred and rotation method, although it involves somewhat lighter 
use prior to seed maturity. This system is especially well adapted 
for use on ranges having a relatively long grazing season. 


Prior to the establishment of administration on national-forest 
ranges cattle and horses were turned loose to roam at will. Sheep 
were herded, but bands were moved here and there, with little refer- 
ence to the welfare of other herds or the range itself. About the 
only restrictions were "dead lines" separating cattle range from sheep 
range established in a few places as the result of the early range wars. 
Only where water was limited and the range was controlled through 
ownership of the watering places was there any semblance of order. 

One of the first steps on the national forests to bring order out of 
this chaos and to eliminate the resulting damage to the range was to 
designate the area upon which each owner was to graze his livestock. 
Sheep ranges have been divided into individual allotments, each of a 
size and grazing capacity to accommodate one band of sheep for the 
prescribed grazing season. Ranges for cattle have been divided, 
usually into natural topographic units, and the cattle of specified 
owners are assigned to particular units. Stock driveways were des- 
ignated over which owners might move their livestock to and from 
their allotted ranges without hindrance to other range users. Thus 
order was established out of confusion and the users were encouraged 
to take an interest in the condition of their ranges and to plan their 
enterprises on a more secure basis. The adoption of the range- 
allotment system and the elimination of the waste and destruction 
of range forage which resulted from the needless trailing and tram- 
pling incident to the jungle competition for the choicer pieces of 
range was a major accomplishment in range preservation on the 
national forests. 

Both distribution and more even use of the range have been 
obtained in other ways. On sheep ranges the wasteful system of 
trailing into central bed grounds has been terminated. Sheep owners 


were encouraged, and on many national forests required, to bed their 
sheep where night overtook them and have the herder camp with the 
sheep instead of bringing the sheep to camp. Bedding in one place 
more than 3 nights in succession^ has been prohibited. Sheep owners 
were encouraged to practice "open herding" allowing the sheep to 
spread out in quiet open formation and to restrict the use of dogs. 
Grazing quietly into water" instead of trailing long distances and not 
shading up along streams was encouraged to the fullest extent. 
Sheepmen soon saw the value of open herding and bedding-out sys- 
tems, because, in addition to conserving the range, it resulted in 5 to 7 
pounds greater gains in lambs. 

Desirable distribution has proved to be more difficult with cattle 
than with sheep, especially on rough or mountainous land. The ten- 
dency is for cattle to overutilize the flatter places and underutilize the 
steeper slopes. Even on rolling or flat range, cattle congregate around 
watering places and damage the forage, particularly if the range is 
not well watered. Systematically locating salt grounds and salting 
at the right time and in the proper quantities has done much to bring 
about better distribution of cattle (32). 

Herding and range riding, often required of the owners of cattle 
using the range, is another effective method applied to obtain better 
distribution. Riders and herders usually pay their own way by 
preventing straying and other losses. 


Various improvements which have been constructed on the national 
forests also have done much to improve range use, check depletion, 
and help restore the range. Drift and division fences have been used 
effectively in controlling and distributing cattle. Additional water 
developments have been instituted to help improve distribution on 
poorly watered range as well as to reduce congestion and trampling 
around drinking places. Trails and bridges have been built to open 
up otherwise inaccessible range. By the reduction of poisonous plants 
areas have been made safer which formerly were lightly used because 
of danger of poisoning livestock. 

Rodents have been controlled on nearly 13 million acres on the 
national forests under direction of the Bureau of Biological Survey 
an achievement that has not only reduced range depletion but has 
made available much additional forage for livestock. The Biological 
Survey also has materially aided the livestock industry and helped 
increase the game supply on national forests by its constant efforts to 
control predatory animals. 

Many tests to reseed fully depleted ranges artificially have been 
made by the Forest Service (52) and some reseeding has been done. 
This method of range restoration is considered practicable if properly 
done. The best sites have responded satisfactorily to the species thus 
far found to be suitable. Areas for seeding must be selected with 
care. Ranges requiring reseeding are frequently those which have 
lost the better top soil by accelerated erosion. Many such sites are 
naturally too poor to respond readily. 



The administration of grazing on the national forests is compli- 
cated by the occurrence of an aggregate of 10,500,000 acres of private 
or State-owned range intermingled in various-sized tracts with the 
Federal grazing lands. Most of this land was acquired either be- 
fore the national forests were established or later under the forest 
homestead law. When such tracts are unfenced and are grazed 
without correlation with national-forest land, it is difficult to prevent 
trespass. A satisfactory procedure has been worked out whereby the 
owner of such lands waives exclusive use of his private land to the 
Government in exchange for a permit to graze free the number of 
livestock equivalent to the grazing capacity of the private lands, on 
some more convenient part of the national forest. In 1934, 3,677,000 
acres of alienated land were handled under this plan. Where the 
owner does not graze livestock of his own, he may enter into a 
cooperative agreement with the Federal Government to receive a 
share of the receipts from other permitted livestock. This pro- 
cedure results both in simplified management of national-forest 
range and in the privately owned land receiving the benefit of 
regulated use. 


Out of the necessity for maintaining consistent action from year 
to year, and because of the multiplicity of elements involved in the 
management of the range resources, the Forest Service has worked 
out a system of specific range-management planning. General plans 
are prepared for a national-forest and ranger district, but the indi- 
vidual allotment or other range unit is the basic planning unit. 
The more important features in the development of a management 
plan are an appraisal or inventory of the resources, an analysis of 
the problems, the setting up of objectives, and defining the plan of 
action to reach the objectives. As much as possible of the pertinent 
data are shown on maps, including grazing capacity, period of use, 
movements of the stock on the range, location of salt grounds, pres- 
ent and needed range improvements, and deferred and rotation graz- 
ing systems. The plans for individual allotments, insofar as prac- 
ticable, are worked out in cooperation with the user. The current 
program and usually a management map are furnished each per- 
mittee or cattle association. The plans are revised from time to 
time as experience and observation prove this to be necessary. 

A systematic method of making surveys to obtain an inventory 
of the range resources and other basic data for determining grazing 
capacity and preparing range-management plans has been developed 
and applied. Up to the year 1934, approximately 50 million acres 
or 61 percent of the total usable range had been covered by such 
range surveys. Acceptable management plans have been completed 
for 82 percent of the individual range units in the national forests, 
including both those based upon range surveys and those on less 
comprehensive information. The remaining 18 percent have un- 
satisfactory plans or plans in various stages of completion. 

The demand for range use is so great on most national-forest 
ranges as to warrant making fullest safe use of the forage. Under 
these circumstances regular periodic inspections are necessary in 


order to discuss problems with the users, see that plans are being 
complied with, check on trespass, and observe conditions of the 
range. At least two intensive inspections a year by a qualified forest 
officer have been found to be the minimum requirement on intensively 
used ranges. 


Numerous difficulties and obstacles have retarded a more prompt 
and fuller attainment of objectives and have left many problems 
still to be solved in range management on the national forests. 
Some of these would naturally arise in any attempt to establish a 
new order in land utilization. Others are due to economic, social, 
and political forces of the times. Still others are inherent in the 
ranges themselves. 


One of the more deep-seated obstacles to greater progress in range 
restoration on the national forests has been the delay in practical 
acceptance of principles of conservation by the stockmen, in spite of 
the fact that it was in their interest in the long run to do so. There 
is broad agreement as to the validity of the general theory of hus- 
banding the resources of the land but its application has not been 
readily incorporated into actual practice. One has only to know 
the situation on most of the privately owned range lands in the West 
to be convinced of this fact. 

That this obstacle has been encountered perhaps is not surprising. 
The national-forest enterprise constitutes the initial attempt in the 
United States to apply conservation principles on a large scale in the 
use of public land. It represents the very antithesis of the exploita- 
tion which, until a positive administration was undertaken on the 
national forests, had pervaded so much of land use in this country. 
It is a reversal of the old economic order of extracting everything 
possible from the soil for immediate profit without regard for its 
effect on sustained yield or future needs. More or less resistance to 
such a change naturally was to be expected. 

Not all of the restrictions necessary to protect and maintain the 
range on the national forests have been opposed by the stockmen; 
some have been readily agreed to and others passively accepted. In 
too many other instances, however, there has been active opposi- 
tion sometimes from purely selfish motives and strong political 
pressure has been brought to bear, all of which has greatly delayed 
though seldom defeated adjustments needed to conserve the range. 

Economic conditions, also, have interfered with adjustments in 
range use. National-forest range users often have been the victims 
of circumstances which have forced them to think largely in terms 
of immediate needs and to request delays in reductions of numbers 
of stock or changes in practice's to protect the range. The inade- 
quate credit facilities, high interest rates, poor markets, maladjust- 
ments in land use, high cost of feed, inadequate supplemental range, 
aggression by stronger competitors in the use of the open public 
domain, and speculative land values that livestock producers have 
had to face, have somewhat hampered the application of national- 


forest management practices. Often it has been in the interest of 
immediate individual and community welfare for the Forest Service 
to retard adjustments in range use until economic conditions were 
more favorable for the stockmen to meet their business obligations. 
During the past 5 years of economic difficulty, for example, one 
means of extending relief has been to delay making necessary reduc- 
tions in grazing use even though these were needed to repair dam- 
age by drought and to avert further impairment of the range. 


New requirements incident to the growth and development of the 
West have created new demands for the public use of national-forest 
resources. The increased demand for game and recreational use and 
a fuller appreciation of the requirements for watershed protection 
are examples. The immediate needs of range users must be con- 
sidered in meeting the requirements of these broader public interests. 
Adjustments seldom can be made abruptly without subjecting those 
directly dependent on the land for a livelihood to hardships. Some- 
times overzealous demands, based upon misunderstanding, as, for 
example, the opposition to the reduction of game animals on ranges 
overgrazed by game, result in sharp clashes between conflicting in- 
terests and in delayed action. Usually it is in the greater public 
interest to work these problems out slowly even though to do so 
involves some delay in range restoration. 


The effect on the range of the United States' entrance into the 
World War in 1917 has already been mentioned. With the whole 
Nation turning its efforts toward increasing the production of mate- 
rials and supplies needed for national defense, restrictions against 
overstocking the national-forest ranges were necessarily slackened. 
This was done as a part of the program to increase supplies of meat 
and wool, even though it was realized that to do so would lead 
temporarily to delayed range improvement and possibly to impair- 
ment. Some of the ranges were overstocked when the United States 
entered the war. The total increase on the national forests during 
1917 and 1918 amounted to 188,000 cattle and 876,000 sheep, or ap- 
proximately a 10-percent increase on ranges already fully or over- 
stocked. In view of the fact that producers had been encouraged 
to enlarge their operations and could not liquidate on short notice 
after the close of the war without undue sacrifice, these excess live- 
stock were not removed at once. The adverse economic conditions 
which followed shortly after the close of the war further delayed 
and complicated the necessary adjustments. It was not until 1923, 
fully 5 years after the war, that these excess livestock were all re- 
moved. In the meantime considerable damage to the range has 
resulted from overgrazing which called for further reductions. 


The variable climate has been another handicap to progress, as 
indicated in a previous section. Rainfall especially has varied 


widely from year to year and between groups of years. The aim 
has been to stock the ranges conservatively enough to avoid injury 
from droughts of short duration. Long-term droughts have been 
more difficult to meet. Rainfall has been below average over most 
western ranges since about 1917 or 1918, and there have been years of 
severe drought within this period. In the very serious drought of 
1928 to 1934 the absence of available feed made it impractical to 
remove livestock from the national-forest range, and in some cases 
necessitated increased use as a measure of drought relief. The defi- 
ciency in forage production without a commensurate reduction in the 
numbers of livestock eventuated in serious overgrazing which, to- 
gether with the weakened condition of the range vegetation attribut- 
able directly to drought, culminated in serious widespread depletion 
of the range. To this set of circumstances is chargeable the major 
part of the reductions in numbers of livestock needed for range pro- 
tection on the national forests at the present time. 


The physical character of the national forests themselves make it 
extremely difficult to apply management which will result in uni- 
form improvement of the range. The wide variation in elevation 
from foothills to high mountain tops, the broken topography, differ- 
ences in soils, slopes, and exposures, and the resulting differences in 
climate and growing conditions, give rise to a variety of conditions 
as to plant cover and usability of the range often within a hori- 
zontal distance of only a few miles. The vegetation on the whole 
is naturally not resistant to close use or heavy trampling. The bal- 
ance between plant cover and stability of the soils is delicate and 
the steep slopes, thin cover, loose soils, and torrential rainfall induce 
erosion immediately when the plant cover is broken. Because of all 
these conditions local overgrazed areas or "sore spots" have 

Soil depletion, as the result of overuse and consequent erosion 
existent on extensive areas when grazing administration was under- 
taken, has been a serious handicap to range restoration. Rehabili- 
tation of these soils necessarily is a slow process and insufficient 
time has elapsed to result in much improvement. On some ranges in 
Utah, for example, there has been but slight recovery on severely 
eroded soils on which grazing has been excluded for the past 20 


When first placed under regulation much of the national-forest 
range was being grazed for longer seasons than proper management 
would allow. Solution of this problem has been slow and difficult 
because of the shortage of available spring and fall range on outside 
land. Certain of the outside range lands which might best be used 
for this purpose in connection with national-forest range including 
parts of the open public domain were being used at other seasons. 
Much of the available spring and fall range was badly depleted. The 
area originally suitable for this purpose has been greatly reduced by 
cultivation. As yet the seasonal-use problem has not been satisfac- 
torily solved on 12 percent of the national-forest range allotments. 


nor will be until some major readjustments are made in use of the 
outside land. 

Other maladjustments in ownership or control of land which com- 
plicate range management exist within and along national-forest 
boundaries. Approximately 12 percent of the grazing land within 
national forests, or about 10,500,000 acres, is alienated and of this 
only 3,677,000 acres is being handled as an integrated part of na- 
tional-forest range units. Efforts to exclude all but timber and im- 
portant watershed land when the national forests were established as 
well as subsequent eliminations have resulted in many natural range 
units being left partly inside and partly outside the national-forest 
boundaries. This has prevented proper management and coordination 
of use of land both inside and outside the forests. 


Still another handicap to higher attainment on national-forest 
ranges, already mentioned, was the lack at the outset of an ex- 
perienced and trained personnel and the paucity of knowledge of 
range management. Range management was a new field in which 
the ground had scarcely been broken. It was only as the personnel 
became better trained and more experienced and as new facts and 
principles were developed by research that standards and practices 
of the "rule-of -thumb" era were discarded and scientific range man- 
agement began to take shape. 

Lack of sufficient funds to carry out various undertakings as soon 
as they were recognized to be needed in the application of better 
range management has been another cause for delay. Earlier in- 
stallations of fences and watering places would have helped to speed 
up range rehabilitation. The range-research program has been slow 
in getting under way. A larger technically trained range-manage- 
ment personnel is needed. Numerous problems, many of urgent 
importance, remain to be solved. There are 56,800,000 acres of na- 
tional-forest range land still to be covered by resource surveys to 
supply data for the preparation of adequate management plans. 


Most of the ranges were already fully occupied when the national 
forests were established, chiefly by large livestock owners who were 
operating on an industrial basis, but also by homesteaders and other 
settlers who had come in and were beginning to gain a foothold on 
the range. The country was still in the developmental stage. The 
West was looked upon as the land of opportunity for the home 
seeker. The general conception of the times was that all an indi- 
vidual needed was the opportunity to obtain a piece of land and a 
few head of livestock and with the free play of economic forces he 
would eventually build up an economic home unit; the national- 
forest regulations were framed to foster this kind of development. 

In carrying out this objective with regard to the use of the range, 
the following policies have been applied in the allocation of grazing 
privileges: (1) Preference is given to the small settler or home 
builder to afford him an opportunity to build up his agricultural 
enterprise into a unit capable of satisfactorily supporting a home: 


(2) in order to obtain the highest use of both public range and farm 
land, preference is given to owners of farm land or winter range 
who require summer range for the number of livestock they can 
support during the remainder of the year with the products of their 
cropland or on owned range land, or both; (3) no rights have been 
allowed to accrue to permittees, but in order to promote stability in 
livestock agriculture, individuals best qualified under the regulations 
have been safeguarded in their use of the range to the fullest extent 
consistent with objects of the national forests and the needs of other 
qualified range users. 

Permits to graze were issued at first to all stockmen who had been 
making bona-fide use of the range for a number of years prior to the 
time it was set aside as national forest. 

Rules and regulations designed to encourage redistribution to small 
owners without forcing sudden sacrifices on bona-fide, previously 
established users were then applied and subsequently have been fol- 
lowed in the issuance of the year-to-year or occasional term permits. 

Ownership rather than leasing of land is given prior consideration 
because leasing lacks permanency and involves the elements of specu- 
lation. Residence on the ranch property is given preference over 

In order to interfere as little as possible with legitimate business 
transactions, the permit of an established permittee is renewable to 
the purchaser of the dependent and otherwise qualified ranch prop- 
erty of an established permittee, or of permitted livestock, if the pur- 
chaser already owns properly qualified ranch property. Since a 
grazing preference is a privilege and not a right, it must be waived 
by the seller of the ranch or livestock to the Government which in 
turn renews it to the new purchaser. In the case of the death of an 
established range user the permits may be renewed to the heirs. 
Whenever the range is overstocked or there is a demand by other 
better qualified users, the size of the permit to the purchaser or heir 
may be reduced prior to renewal. 

In order to prevent monopoly of the range by the purchase of 
ranch lands or livestock entitled to a grazing preference, and the 
exclusion thereby of other qualified users, a maximum number any 
individual may graze has been established for each national forest, 
beyond which a permit number may not be increased, except under 
extraordinary circumstances. 

Minimum limits also have been established below which no per- 
mit number is reduced, to make room for new users or to increase 
small permits. Such reductions are made on the larger sized per- 
mits. This minimum limit is, in each case, an approximation of 
the minimum number of livestock which, in connection with the 
owned farm and range land, will help to produce a reasonable 
standard of living for a family, and varies depending upon local 
circumstances and conditions. It is lower where it relates to di- 
versified agricultural enterprises in which the grazing of a few 
livestock is essential to supplement farm-crop production. It is 
higher where it applies to enterprises where livestock raising in 
connection with forage-crop production or owned winter range is 
the chief source of income. 



The system of allocating the use of the range on the national 
forests on the whole has contributed materially to the stability and 
maintenance of western livestock agriculture. The practice of relat- 
ing the use of the public range to the other agricultural resources 
has resulted in making both types of land contribute a higher eco- 
nomic return than if each had been used independently. The ad- 
ministration of the national forests has been the largest accomplish- 
ment in planned land used in the West. The forage supply on 
national-forest range has been the most dependable of all of the 
factors entering into the economy of livestock producing enterprises. 
The advantage which the bigger, more aggressive operator might 
have exercised on the range by virtue of stronger financial position 
and greater resourcefulness has been removed. 

However, the expectation that there would be a material building 
up in the number of individuals benefited and in the number of live- 
stock they each grazed has not been fulfilled. Instead of a wider 
distribution of grazing privileges among a larger number of in- 
dividuals, the situation, especially with cattle, is much the same as 
in 1909. 

There were 27,237 permittees in 1909 and 26,224 in 1934. The rela- 
tive number of cattle permittees in each of four permit-size classes, 
as shown in table 50 (columns 2, 5, 8, and 11) has remained ap- 
proximately the same over the 25-year period, as has also the rela- 
tive proportion of the number of cattle in each class (columns 3, 
6, 9, and 12) and the average size of the permits (columns 4, 7, 10, and 
13). The only notable exception has been a decrease in the average 
size of permit in class IV, the largest size class, from 501 head in 
1909 to 425 head in 1934. The smallest size class of permittees, 
who make up 62 percent of the total number, own only 15 percent 
of the total number of cattle grazed. On the other hand, the 7 
percent of cattle permittees in the largest size class own 44 percent 
of the total number grazed. 

The situation with sheep is somewhat different. Sheep permit- 
tees number only about one-fourth as many as cattle permittees, 
although they own approximately one-half the combined livestock 
units (sheep being counted at a 5 to 1 ratio with cattle) . The rela- 
tive number of permittees in the small-size class (column 2 in table 
50) has increased appreciably as has also the relative number of 
sheep in this class (column 3) ; however, a part of this increase, as 
well as a part of the decrease in the number of class I cattle permit- 
tees is due to permittees having exchanged from cattle to sheep. 
There has also been a decline at the opposite end of the scale, in 




m i 



p s 




g 05 00 CO OS 05 

11 a 









. 00 00 OO C iO 






relative number of permittees (column 11), in relative total num- 
ber of sheep grazed (column 12), and in average size of permit 
(column 13). These decreases have been reflected in a decline of 
about 30 percent in the average size of sheep permit (column 14). 
The data on sheep permits^ therefore, indicate that there has been 
noticeable redistribution among the various size classes. 

Size of permit, however, is not the only criterion of sufficiency of 
numbers of livestock to meet the needs of individual permittees. 
The size classes, especially for cattle and to some extent for sheep, 
shown in table 50 relate to many kinds of livestock-agriculture en- 
terprises, varying from small diversified farms with a few head of 
cattle or dairy farms which require summer range for a few head 
of young animals, to practically exclusive livestock-producing 
ranches, with all sorts of combinations in between. A few to 40 
head of cattle or up to a few hundred sheep, for example, form a 
very valuable and usually sufficient adjunct to other farm production 
on a diversified farm, both as a source of fertilizer for field soils 
and of cash income. On the other hand, this small number is 
seldom sufficient to round out a satisfactory home-supporting unit 
when livestock are the chief source of income. Since the permits 
relating to the various kinds of livestock-agriculture enterprises are 
not segregated in the available data presented in table 50, size of 
permit alone does not show the full significance of the range-use 
distribution policy of the Forest Service. 

In order better to understand the influence that economic forces 
may have had on size of permits on national forests, a comparison 
should be made with otherwise similar livestock-agriculture enter- 
prises which do not participate in the use of national-forest range ; 
but data to make such comparison are not available. A possible 
hint along this line, however, is contained in the census data showing 
that the average number of cattle and sheep per farm in the 11 
Western States has decreased in approximately the same degree as 
the average size of permits on the national forests. The average 
size of cattle permit declined from 72 head in 1909 to 69 head in 
1934, and the average number of cattle per farm from 24 head in 
1910 to 20 head in 1930. Similarly, sheep per farm declined from 
74 head in 1910 to 50 head in 1930, or about 32 percent as compared 
to a decline of about 30 percent in average size of sheep permits 
on the national forests. It would appear from these data that the 
trend has been approximately the same among owners who do or do 
not use the national-forest ranges. 

Many factors other than the policy of administration as expressed 
in the Forest Service regulations have had an influence in the re- 
distribution of grazing privileges on the national forests, and in 
many instances these may have dominated. Adequate data are not 
available for a thorough analysis but, as shown in the following 
paragraphs, certain conclusions may be based on the information 
at hand. 


During the period 1909 to 1934, a fairly large number of permits 
was granted to owners in the smallest size class who had not previ- 
ously used the national-forest range. Substantial reductions were 
made also in the larger-sized permits to provide range for the be- 
ginners and to increase the size of many of the smaller permits. In 
a few places permits in the two intermediate size classes have been 
granted to new applicants but only where unused range was not 
wanted by small operators. Practically all of the reductions in size 
of permit for the benefit of range protection have been made in 
the larger-sized classes. Only in rare instances, where there were not 
enough large permits to absorb the reductions needed for range pro- 
tection, have cuts been made in the smaller-sized permits. 

In spite of this deliberate action by the Forest Service and a 
negligible number of cancelations of grazing permits for the per- 
sistent violation of the national-forest regulations or for other 
cause, there has been a slight decline in the relative number of small 
cattle permittees. Furthermore there has been no sustained increase 
in the average size of permits held by them. 

Many of the small permit holders have sold their ranch property 
or permitted livestock or both to other stockmen to whom the permit 
has been renewed and in this manner two or more preferences in 
numerous instances have been combined. In some cases small op- 
erators have built up their permits into the next size class. In 
other cases larger operators whose permits have been reduced either 
for redistribution to other users or for range protection, subsequently 
purchased additional livestock or ranch property of some smaller 
permittees, and in that way many of the larger permits have been 
more nearly maintained than otherwise would have been the case. 
For still other cases, the permits, usually in the small size classes, 
have been voluntarily abandoned. 

A study made in several of the Western States in 1935 indicates 
the extent to which preferences have been passed from one permit 
holder to another or abandoned during the period 1905 to 1934. In 
Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada, and eastern Oregon, as shown in table 51, 
there has been a relatively heavier dropping out of small permittees 
and the larger permits on the whole have been the most stable. On 
the other hand, in Utah the small permits have been more stable and 
more of them are still in the hands of the original holders than in 
any of the other States. In Utah, relatively more of the permit 
holders are engaged in diversified farming or outside labor and de- 
pend less upon livestock for their income than in the other four 
States. A study in eastern Oregon shows further that about 75 
percent of the permittees who have dropped out did so within 5 
years after obtaining a permit. These data suggest that where live- 
stock production is the chief source of income, the small-sized per- 
mits are not economically sufficient and after a few years of use the 
livestock are sold and the permit is transferred to a new holder, 
either another new small owner, an already established small permit 
holder who is endeavoring to build up to an economic unit, or an 
established large-sized permit holder who desires further to build up 
his permit. 



The data in table 51 also indicate a considerable lack of stability 
in ownership of livestock in all permit-size classes. During the past 
30 years there has been an average of almost two predecessors for 
every present permit holder or an average length of life of a permit 
of between 10 and 15 years. This succession in ownership is ascribed 
to the unsettled condition in agriculture in the Western States. The 
lowest turn-over on the average has been in Utah where there is 
more extensive diversified farming in the vicinity of the national 
forests and a more settled type of agriculture than in the other 
States. No data are available to afford a comparison in stability of 
livestock ownership by ranches using outside range with those using 
national-forest range. 

TABLE 51. Percent of, original permittees wUo have dropped out on national 
forests in 5 Western States, 1905-34 

Size class 







F(l to 40 head) 












II (41 to 100 head) 

III (101 to 200 head) 

IV (over 200 head) 


I (1 to 1,000 head)... 

II (1,001 to 2,500 head) 

III (2,501 to 4,000 head) 

IV (over 4,000 head) 

These admittedly incomplete data substantiate a conclusion based 
on wide observation, that economic forces beyond the influence of the 
national forests have played a large part in controlling the distri- 
bution of grazing privileges. Small-sized permits, except where 
associated with diversified farming or other source of income, be- 
cause of being undersized or submarginal in character, have proven 
insufficient in many instances to constitute a base upon which the 
small settler might build a satisfactory home unit and have been 
abandoned or transferred from one holder to another. More often 
the transfers are to a larger permit holder because the small permit 
holder who might like to enlarge is unable to buy the necessary land 
upon which to care for his livestock for the portion of the year 
they are not on the national-forest range. 

Other factors have had some influence also. One of these is the 
term permit. When these are in effect there is less opportunity to 
make reductions on the larger permits for the benefit of smaller 

A second factor has been the need for making reductions in num- 
ber of livestock grazed for the purpose of range protection. Almost 
all of these reductions have fallen on the large operators, and when 
these cuts have been heavy there has been a reluctance on the part 
of the Forest Service to make additional reductions for the purpose 
of admitting new permittees or granting increases to small permit 

6494036 19 


In some degree also the Forest Service perhaps has not been aggres- 
sive enough in carrying out the policy of redistribution in favor of 
the small settler. There are a number of rather large permits still 
in existence, although all of them have been greatly reduced at one 
time or another. Some of these at least, after having been reduced, 
have been built up again through purchase by the holder of ranch 
property or livestock of another permittee. On the other hand, the 
small number of livestock granted to many of the small permittees 
undoubtedly has been insufficient to constitute economic-sized operat- 
ing units, and the permits have been given up or the livestock sold 
to someone else. The heavier turn-over in small permit holders in 
many States strongly suggests this possibility. The alternative 
would be granting an economic-sized permit to begin with. At any 
rate, it is apparent that merely granting a small permit will not 
suffice as the sole basis for building up an economic unit, and the 
fact remains that there is still a large number of small farmers in and 
adjacent to the national forests, many of whom have no permit at all 
and others who have only a small permit, insufficient satisfactorily 
to support a home. 

The national-forest range, however, is insufficient to afford any- 
where near an adequate size of permit to all of these settlers, even 
if the larger-sized permits were eliminated entirely. Further redis- 
tribution of grazing use on public land is desirable in many locali- 
ties, some of which can be done without more fundamental 
adjustments, but the lack of sufficient range to meet all needs sug- 
gests the necessity of finding other means than further distribution 
in the use of national-forest range alone to solve the problem. It 
would be unwise to attempt redistribution on a big scale without a 
sounder basis than the present available information can afford. At 
most, it is a national-forest problem only in part. All ownerships 
of land, including farm land, privately owned, and State range land, 
the grazing districts, and the remaining open public land, should 
be considered together in order to adjust and harmonize ownership 
and use among all classes of land. There are two courses to follow, 
either the doctrine of laissez faire, in which the fittest will finally 
survive, which, except for the preference given the smaller per- 
mittees on national-forest range, has been the policy of the past, or 
the planned way of ascertaining the facts relating to all classes of 
land and then determine the course which will result in the greatest 
benefit to the greatest number of people. This constitutes one of 
the major unsolved problems in national-forest and other types of 
land use. 


The national forests represent the pioneering effort to apply con- 
servation and planned land management on a large scale in the 
United States. During 30 years of intensive administration, range 
management on these areas has been confronted by the many obsta- 
cles and difficulties detailed in the preceding pages, all of which 
have in some measure hindered and delayed necessary action and 
retarded the accomplishment desired. During this period, however, 
definite aims and objectives in line with maintaining and improving 
the natural resource have been held to, whereas on private and most 


-other public ranges exploitation of the resource has continued with 
little effort to control it. 

The net results of these 30 years of effort may be summarized as 
follows : 

1. The trend of depletion of the range has been checked, and no- 
table improvement is the rule. The grazing capacity of the range 
area in use in 1934 has been improved 19 percent since 1910. Grazing 
capacity on national-forest ranges today is, on the whole, TO per- 
cent of that on virgin range, as compared to 33 percent on the graz- 
ing districts and the public domain and 49 percent on privately 
owned lands in the Western States. At the present time, even in 
spite of a long period of deficient rainfall, the 1928-34 drought, and 
the extra demands of the 1929-35 depression, only ^19 percent of the 
range area on national forests is in such condition as to require 
major adjustments in use to permit continued improvement. 

2. The watershed lands, which include the heads of practically 
all of the important streams furnishing water for irrigation, hydro- 
electric power, and domestic use in the West, have been protected 
from serious damage and are mostly in an improved condition. 
Many mountain streams subject to destructive floods and mud flows 
from torrential summer rains when the national forests were estab- 
lished seldom have such floods today. Disastrous floods on national- 
forest watersheds are rare occurrences except from recent burns or 
those few areas on which an adequate cover has not been restored. 
This is in sharp contrast to much similar privately owned or other 
Federal lands, excepting the ungrazed national parks and municipal 
watersheds. Erosion of topsoil and gullying have in a large meas- 
ure been checked on national forests, although they are still too 
prevalent. They are extremely small in relation to the extent of 
erosion on other lands. Along with the benefit of watershed pro- 
tection, streams in the national forests have been maintained in 
condition to support trout and other game fish. 

3. The policy of "multiple use" developed on national-forest land 
has made available all of the resources in a manner to obtain the 
highest net use of all the land. Of the 87,954,000 acres of usable 
grazing land only 5,416,000 acres have been closed for other more 
important uses. On the remaining 82,538,000 acres, watershed pro- 
tection, timber production, grazing, production of wildlife, and rec- 
reational use are correlated and harmonized. 

4. When the national forests were established, the population of 
wildlife in the Western States was at or near its lowest point in 
history. By giving wildlife a definite place in land management, 
by urging and assisting in the enactment of better State game laws, 
by cooperating with the several States in game-law enforcement, 
and in the establishment of more than 100 game refuges on the 
national forests, and by developing better game management, the 
number of game animals and possibilities for hunting have been 
greatly increased. The control of predatory animals under the di- 
rection of the Biological Survey has also helped greatly in raising 
the game population. Big-game animals on range lands in 1924, 
the first year complete estimates were made for all species, num- 
bered approximately 613,000 head. In 1934 they were estimated to 
number 1,084,000, or an increase in that period of 77 percent. By 
developing roads into the national forests and by planting fish in 


streams in cooperation with other Federal agencies and States, rec- 
reational sport has been made available to hundreds of thousands 
of fishermen. The additional hunting and fishing not only has 
added to recreational enjoyment by city and country people alike, 
but the goods and services required by sportsmen have added to the 
business of merchants, hotels, and guides in the communities adjacent 
to the national forests. 

5. The giving of preference in the use of the forage resources on 
the national forests to nearby residents who need summer-range land 
to supplement and properly utilize their farm and winter-range 
land, and thereby to supplement and round out farm or ranch home 
units, has resulted in higher use of both the national forest and 
privately owned land. It represents one of the few large-scale 
efforts to put better land use into effect. Although successful inso- 
far as it has gone, accomplishments have been limited by maladjust- 
ments in land use and ownership, economic conditions, and other 
factors outside the national forests. 

6. The aim of protecting the small operator and affording him 
the opportunity to build up an economic home unit has been accom- 
plished only in part. National-forest administration helped to put 
an end to range wars, eliminated the nomad operator on the summer 
range, and protected the little man against monopoly of the range by 
his stronger, more aggressive neighbor. Small operators have been 
afforded more than equal opportunity with large operators to use the 
range. The various other elements in range livestock production, 
including credits, markets, cost of feed, and land values, have been 
far less stable or dependable than the availability and cost of na- 
tional-forest range forage. However, the expectation that many of 
the smaller operators would build up into units capable of satisfac- 
torily maintaining a family has not been realized. Large operators 
are fewer in number and have been reduced in size in order both to 
stop overgrazing the range and to make more range available to small 
operators. Nevertheless, the relative number of small operators and 
the average number of cattle grazed by them have not been increased, 
although there has been an increase in the number of small sheep 
owners. The lack of increases in the case of cattle is believed to be 
due in a large degree to maladjustments in land use and ownership 
outside the national forests and in some degree, probably, to a too 
conservative application of the redistribution policy. 

7. The final objective in the protection, development, and use of 
the national-forest resources is the establishment and maintenance 
of a stable population. The net results of the dependability of the 
range-forage crop, the greater opportunity for small operators, cor- 
relation of national-forest range with dependent farm and ranch 
land, and multiple use of the related resources has contributed mate- 
rially to stabilizing home and community development. The settle- 
ments around the national forests have a dependable supply of wood, 
water, forage, game, and recreational advantages. These lands are 
great reservoirs of useful work in time of economic stress. The 
counties in which national-forest ranges lie receive 25 percent of the 
receipts collected for grazing and other uses for their roads and 
schools. The development and protection of the national-forest 
properties and other work done by the Federal Government is a 
source of income to local labor, has relieved the several States of 


heavy expenditures, and has prevented the waste of resources basic 
to the welfare of these States. 

8. In its endeavor to solve its own range land and watershed prob- 
lems the Forest Service has developed a science and practice of range 
management and watershed protection which is applicable to other 
classes of range land as well. It has pioneered the way in the soil- 
erosion problem on forest and range lands and was the first to under- 
take comprehensive study of it. It has been among the first to study 
and obtain concrete information on the range problem on the open 
public domain and has constantly urged action to correct it. 

9. The average annual cost of administration of grazing on the 
national forests for the 4 years ended June 30, 1935, was 0.89 cents 
per acre of usable range. This cost, however, does not include the 
cost of range improvements constructed with emergency and relief 
funds and personnel during 1932 to 1935. Present personnel and 
facilities for administration, however, are inadequate to render the 
services required and should be enlarged. The income from grazing 
for this period amounts to 1.46 cents per acre. Whether or not this 
cost of administration is too high should be judged only on the basis 
of the needs of this job. The Forest Service has held to two broad 
aims or objectives conservation and protection of the resources and 
provision of the maximum public benefits therefrom. Either or both 
may be sacrificed ; but if so, it must be expected that cheaper admin- 
istration will result either in damage to the resources or in reducing 
use to a point where the dependent population will be denied the 
resources which otherwise might be available to them, either of which 
lead to social and economic losses. 

These accomplishments are attributable to the following: 

1. The setting up of definite aims and objectives and adhering to 

2. Anticipating problems and preparing to meet them. 

3. A decentralized form of organization. 

4. Professional resident management. 

5. Accepting full responsibility for decisions, even when superfi- 
cially contrary to immediate advantage of range users. 

6. Equal consideration for all resources. 

7. A long-term viewpoint which leaves the way open for meeting 
new needs as they arise in the use of the resources. 

8. Jurisdiction over the national forests in the Department of 
Agriculture, where activities relating to growth from the soil are 

Many problems remain to be solved. Further adjustments are 
needed to reduce use to the grazing capacity of the range. Seasonal 
changes are needed on 12 percent of the grazing allotments. Man- 
agement plans including range inventories have not been completed 
for all the ranges. Additional improvements, artificial reseeding, 
and other work remain to be done. Adjustments must be made as 
needed to meet the requirements of multiple use. During 1932 to 
1935 intensive range management has lagged, owing to so much 
time of resident forest officers being required on emergency relief 
work. Probably the biggest single unsolved problem in connection 
with the national-forest ranges is the development of a more ade- 
quate basis for distributing grazing privileges in accordance with 
sound social and economic policies. This involves correcting malad- 


justments in land use on outside agricultural land as well as a resur- 
vey of national-forest policies. Additional research is the founda- 
tion to the solution of many of the problems. 


Kange lands within Indian reservations occupy a unique place in 
the consideration of the national-range situation. This is so, not on 
account of the considerable area or commercial importance, but be- 
cause these lands belonging to the Indians constitute a definite re- 
sponsibility of the Federal Government for management and ad- 

The legal status of each Indian reservation or individual tract of 
Indian land now rests firmly on the provisions of an Indian treaty, 
and Executive order, or Federal patent, definitely recognizing or es- 
tablishing indisputable Indian title to the property and in most in- 
stances restricting passage of this title. The Indians are wards of 
the Federal Government and this guardianship extends to the super- 
vision and administration of the Indian lands. 

The uses to which the Indian range has been devoted, the steps 
taken in its administration, the present ownership status, and even 
the extent and physical condition of the resources are intricately 
involved with the ever-changing degree of interest in Indian affairs ; 
and are reflections of the efforts of the Federal Government to direct 
the use of the land resources of the Indian toward fostering his social 
and economic development. The multiplicity of aims and social 
theories involved has resulted in a rather complicated pattern of 

In 1849 the Bureau of Indian Affairs was transferred from the 
War Department into civil control as a bureau of the Department 
of the Interior. Since then the functions of the Bureau of Indian 
Affairs have been developed to a high degree of beneficent paternal- 
ism. In addition to providing services as an aid to the health, edu- 
cation, employment, and other personal needs of the Indians, progres- 
sive steps have been taken in the management and development of 
the reservation properties, including activities directed toward the 
conservative management of the Indian range lands (83). 


Over 80 percent of the total land in Indian ownership is within 
the range livestock-producing regions of the West. Plant types and 
forage characteristics of these broad regions have been fully dis- 
cussed in an earlier part of this report, and are not reviewed here 
except to mention that the forage on the various Indian reservations 
is basically the same as that which occurs generally throughout the 
territory of which they are a part. Several plant types suitable to 
the ranging of both sheep and cattle are found on each major reser- 
vation regardless of location. The distribution of Indian land 
valued for forage production by States and grazing types recognized 
by the Indian Service, as compiled from 1934 statistics, are presented 
in table 52. Of the 43,200,000 acres given a range-land classification, 
slightly over 3 million is listed as barren or waste, leaving a balance 
of over 40,000,000 acres for use by livestock. 



On nearly all of the 47 reservations summarized in table 52, full 
use is made of the annual forage crop. In 1934 approximately 10 
million acres were under temporary lease or permit to whites, pend- 
ing the time the range is needed for Indian livestock. Indian live- 
stock owners paid grazing fees on an additional 1.7 million acres and 
on the remainder, comprising nearly three-fourths of the total, 
Indian-owned livestock were grazed on a free use basis. 

The relative proportions of white and Indian ownership and the 
total livestock reported using the range in 1934, are shown in table 53. 

TABLE 52. Areas of Indian reservations of range importance by types and 



All range 

Open land 

Sage and 




Waste and 

Arizona . 

22, 318, 555 

9, 520, 391 

4, 860, 534 

2, 230, 441 

3, 706, 118 


1 997 331 


372, 935 

21, 825 

123, 840 

33 620 

68 812 

134 838 

Colorado .. 

533, 332 



418, 186 

12, 814 

12 332 


424, 484 


370, 324 

44, 160 


5, 582, 196 

3, 987, 568 


403, 964 

386, 840 

101, 200 

279, 100 


804, 507 


585, 779 



101 400 

New Mexico 
North Dakota... 

3, 641, 063 
944, 628 

1, 606, 707 
854, 814 

613, 942 
26, 630 

722, 380 

432, 275 
30, 064 

5 980 

263, 759 
27 140 


1, 539, 723 



1 204 004 

35 939 

15 000 

South Dakota 

3, 730, 422 

3, 514, 794 

50, 493 


128 895 


401, 108 

113, 179 

178, 219 


62 500 

2 500 

17 830 


2, 110, 210 

342, 587 

337, 387 

1, 396, 217 



829, 440 

193, 526 

370, 205 


3 600 


136 309 

All States. 

i 43, 232, 603 

20, 403, 118 

8, 143, 410 

6, 658, 700 

4, 775, 202 

117, 220 


1 The total area of range available to domestic livestock on Indian lands in the West, as shown elsewhere 
In this report, is 48,391,000 acres inclusive of small areas of waste range within the larger bodies of range 
land. The acreage shown in this table is exclusive of public domain Indian allotments, small fenced tracts 
within reservations, or other areas within Indian ownership which have not been classified as to forage type. 
In the few instances where a reservation extends into two States it is listed here and in following tables with 
the State in which the Indian agency is situated. 

TABLE 53. Indian- and white-owned livestock on ranges, 1984 







229 343 

134 863 

901 765 

215 566 


227 460 

24 943 

671 933 


456 803 

159 806 

1 573 698 

215 566 

The Indian-owned livestock make use of the reservation range 
for the yearlong period except when it is covered with snow. In 
some localities, particularly on the northern reservations, supplemen- 
tary feeding is practiced; but by far the larger percentage of the 
Indian stock graze yearlong on the reservation ranges. The white- 
owned stock generally is grazed under permits specifying the sea- 
son of use, which varies from a few months of intensive summer 
grazing to more moderate use over a longer period, depending on 
the nature and location of the range. The Indian ranges on the 
larger reservations are quite important sources of feed, and there 
is ready demand for use by white-owned livestock of the forage not 
needed for Indian livestock. 


The present condition of the ranges varies widely in different 
regions. The Indian range, lands in Oregon and Washington, ex- 
cept for some minor localized injury due to faulty distribution of 
stock, are in good condition. On the northern Great Plains reser- 
vations, where the native sod of buffalo grass has been undisturbed 
and the area used solely .for grazing, the ranges are also generally 
in fair to good condition. Some futile attempts at dry farming 
have destroyed the native vegetation, but it is estimated that some- 
what less than 100,000 acres of plowed Indian land in the Plains 
States should be returned to grass. 

In the Southwest the situation is serious. Approximately one- 
half of the total range lands in the Navajo, Hopi, and Papago coun- 
try, particularly ? is seriously overstocked and presents a severely 
overgrazed condition. Erosion by both wind and water has re- 
moved and is still removing the fertile topsoil on hundreds of thou- 
sands of acres. The condition of these ranges, in spite of the first 
steps toward corrective measures which have been taken, is steadily 
growing worse. The fine texture of the soil and the absence of sod- 
forming vegetation, together with irregular torrential showers, cause 
a heavy run-off which results in serious damage (90). Drastic ac- 
tion toward livestock reduction and range rehabilitation will be nec- 
essary on millions of acres before the Indian range lands of this 
region are again capable of making their full contribution to the 
welfare of the Indian owners or the Nation as a whole (161). 

A survey of. western ranges made in 1935 indicates that the Indian 
lands on the whole have been depleted approximately 51 percent of 
virgin condition, and about 4 percent of the total usable range area 
is extremely depleted, 54 percent is severely depleted, 36 percent is 
materially depleted, and 6 percent of the range is only moderately 
depleted. It is believed that in virgin condition these Indian ranges 
had a grazing capacity at the rate of 4.2 acres for each animal-unit 
month. The present carrying capacity is approximately 8.2 acres 
per animal-unit month, although the ranges are now stocked at the 
rate of about 6.0 acres per animal-unit month. Over the past 30 
years the trend in condition has been downward on 75 percent of 
the Indian ranges, and there has been improvement on about 10 per- 
cent. During approximately the past 5 years the trend has been 
downward on 63 percent, and there has been improvement on about 
4 percent of the total range area. 


The record prior to the organization of the forestry unit in the 
Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1910 does not indicate that any con- 
siderable attention or systematic effort was given to the supervision 
of Indian range lands, even though in 1891 the leasing of Indian 
lands for grazing purposes was authorized by law. Indeterminate 
numbers of livestock made seasonal or yearlong use of the range, 
largely on a trespass basis, and the various efforts toward interesting 
the Indians themselves in the livestock industry met with varying 
degrees of success. 

For 6 to 8 years after 1910 some attention was given to the range 
situation in the Southwest by the forestry unit of the Indian Service. 


A system of range allocation was inaugurated, and fees were col- 
lected for grazing privileges. This work was subsequently turned 
over to the various reservation superintendents, and thereafter but 
little real progress in range control was made. Some years later, but 
prior to 1920, as forestry organizations were developed on the res- 
ervations of the Northwest, the responsibility for the supervision of 
grazing activities was gradually assumed on the more important 
forested reservations of this region. Range lands were organized 
into grazing units, a permit system with a definite control of the 
number of stock and season of use was adopted, and an orderly pro- 
gram of management was placed in effect (15 1, pp. 607-632). As a 
result of the progress made in range administration on the reserva- 
tions of the Northwest and of the growing recognition of the im- 
portance of range conservation, the supervision of all grazing activi- 
ties on Indian lands was delegated to the forestry branch in 1930. 

A definite and systematic program of range management for ap- 
plication on all reservations was initiated, directed toward the con- 
servation and regulated use of range resources. To the extent allowed 
by the funds available, a technically trained personnel has been de- 
veloped for range administration. The objectives were definitely 
stated in the grazing survey report previously cited, and were ap- 

E roved by the Secretary of the Interior June 4, 1931. In abbreviated 
arm, they are as follows : 

1. The preservation of land, water, forest, and forage in a safe 
and entire state. 

2. The permanent welfare of the livestock industry generally and 
the Indian livestock industry in particular. 

3. The protection of the interests of the whole Indian people against 
unfair competition by the more aggressive individuals. 

4. The conservative utilization of all forage resources, primarily 
through the development of the livestock industry among Indians, 
and secondarily through the regulated sale of grazing privileges. 

On the forested reservations of the Northwest these regulations 
served to strengthen the plan of administration already in operation, 
and but little modification of range-management practices was re- 
quired. On other reservations used largely by white-owned stock 
there was considerable opposition, both on the part of the Indians 
as landlords (161) and the livestock operators as lessees, to the inau- 
guration of this more positive system of range management. 

Much more encouraging progress has been made on the ranges used 
by white operators than on ranges used by the Indians themselves. 
In the Southwest, although many thousands of sheep and goats have 
been removed from the Navajo ranges and constant effort for further 
improvement is steadily being made, progress toward sustained-yield 
management has been relatively slow. An extension program directed 
toward improving their knowledge and understanding of range man- 
agement has been instituted among the Navajos as a part of the plan 
for gradually reducing the number of stock on the overgrazed ranges. 
The problem of the administration of Indian range lands, with its 
many ramifications, has by no means been solved, but definite steps 
toward sustained-yield management have been taken, and further 
progress seems assured. 



The governmental policies which have been applied with respect 
to Indian lands have resulted in a highly involved land status on 
some of the reservations today which has greatly complicated man- 
agement of the range resources. From colonial days until recently 
the friends of the Indians, without exception, tried to lead, persuade, 
or force them into the settled domestic mode of living which the 
white man had developed and which has proved so satisfactory to 
him. A permanent home instead of a nomadic life, a family group 
instead of a tribal band, domestic livestock instead of wild game, 
and individual instead of communal ownership of land, were con- 
sidered to be necessary for the proper development of the Indian. 

In carrying out these principles the Indians were encouraged 
to make selections of land on their reservations and these selections 
were then conveyed to them as allotments. When the Indians of a 
reservation had each been allotted land for homemaking and tribal 
reserves of timber and grazing grounds had been made, the surplus 
lands were in many instances opened to homestead entry or disposed 
of in other ways with the proceeds of disposal credited to the tribal 

Many variations of this land program were applied on the numer- 
ous reservations in the Northern States, and as a result much land 
unsuited to individual development has been passed into private 
ownership. In the Southwest, owing to the stronger communal 
traits of the Indian people and the more obvious unsuitability of 
the reservation land for use in small tracts, this land-disposal pro- 
gram was not so generally applied. 

As a result of the various land transactions within the boundaries 
of many reservations there are five distinct classifications of land 
ownership : 

1. Ceded and^ alienated. Lands to which the Indian title has been 
completely extinguished by Executive order, Federal purchase or 
comparable governmental action. 

2. Alienated allotments. Lands in homestead size tracts to which 
patent in fee simple has been issued to individual Indians and 
which may still remain in Indian ownership or may have been dis- 
posed of to whites. Such lands are subject to taxation and sale and 
are in every sense private property. 

3. Ceded but unentered. Lands ceded by the tribe to the Federal 
Government for disposal by the General Land Office. Indian title 
will not be extinguished until homestead entry is approved and 
proceeds paid into the tribal fund. 

4. Trust allotments. Lands in homestead size tracts to which pat- 
ents have been issued to individual Indians with restrictions as to 
alienation or encumbrance. 

5. Tribal. The undivided community-owned lands of the tribe. 
The extent of holdings under the various status classes in 1931 

were as follows : 



Ceded and alienated 10, 775, 263 

Alienated allotments 3, 897, 012 

Total__ 14, 672, 275 

Ceded but unentered 1, 812, 205 

Trust allotments 13, 539, 641 

Tribal lands__ 30,051,979 

Total 45, 403, 825 

Grand total M 60, 076, 100 

This highly involved and decentralized ownership of land, which 
for purposes of effective and efficient range management should be 
handled in large consolidated blocks, constitutes one of the most 
trying problems of Indian range administration. 


In addition to the intricately involved land status, there are sev- 
eral other problems peculiar to the administration of Indian lands, all 
deriving from the premise that "the least government is the best gov- 
ernment" and that the Indians are entitled to a wide discretionary 
latitude in the handling of their own property. Because of this 
policy, Indians have not been prevented from grazing semiwild 
and almost worthless ponies yearlong on seriously depleted spring 
ranges. The desire to encourage the Indians in the ownership of 
sheep and cattle to develop economic independence and habits of 
industry has resulted in the minimum of restrictions on overgrazing, 
poor distribution, and other bad range practices. 

The importance of income from the grazing use of individual 
allotments has been a further serious source of difficulty in range 
administration. The right of each individual Indian to obtain the 
highest possible current income from his property and the implied 
responsibility of Indian Service employees to support this procedure 
tended for years toward inadequate control of stocking and over- 
use of the range. The consolidation of Indian allotments into range 
units and the application of the permit system, accomplished under 
the grazing regulations of June 4, 1931, have been of major impor- 
tance in improving this situation. 


It is too early in the operation of the Wheeler-Howard Act (June 
18j 1934) the most notable recent legislation with respect to Indian 
affairs to make a conclusive appraisal of its ultimate effect on 
Indian range lands. However, certain of its features are extremely 
important in connection with range-land management. 

The explanatory title of the act indicated its scope : 

To conserve and develop Indian lands and resources ; to extend to Indians the 
right to form business and other organizations; to establish a credit system 
for Indians ; to grant certain rights of home rule to Indians ; to provide for 
vocational education for Indians; and for other purposes. 

83 This acreage includes all Indian lands in the United States and therefore does not 
agree with the total acreage in the western range area. 


The first four sections of the act deal with land status and owner- 
ship and are directed toward restricting the further alienation of 
Indian land to the irreducible minimum consistent with proper in- 
heritance procedure. This will operate toward the stabilization 
of the ownership of Indian land in its present status and, together 
with the authorization for consolidation and acquisition contained 
elsewhere in the act, should have a helpful influence in range 

Section 6, in which range management is specifically mentioned, 
reads as follows : 

The Secretary of the Interior is directed to make rules and regulations for 
the operation and management of Indian forestry units on the principle of 
sustained-yield management, to restrict the number of livestock grazed on 
Indian range units to the estimated carrying capacity of such ranges, and 
to promulgate such other rules and regulations as may be necessary to protect 
the range from deterioration, to prevent soil erosion, to assure full utilization 
of the range, and like purposes. 

This section makes the protection of Indian range lands and the 
application of sustained-yield management a definite mandatory 
responsibility of the administrative organization, but, since in each 
case of serious overgrazing on Indian lands the stock is owned by 
the Indians themselves, a much more complex procedure is involved 
than the mere modification or cancelation of a grazing permit. In 
fact, it would seem to involve a modification of lifelong habits and 
customs and the substitution of some other means of procuring a 
livelihood for a large percentage of the Indian population in the 
Southwest. Social and economic development must go hand in hand 
with the application of the conservation features of the Wheeler- 
Howard Act. If so, in the ultimate application of these conserva- 
tion features, the Indians themselves as well as the Indian ranges 
will be greatly benefited. 


The variation from time to time in the social aims and objectives 
of Indian guardianship by the Federal Government, the peculiar 
desires and habits of the Indian himself, the complicated pattern of 
land status within the reservations, and the failure for a long time 
on the part of administrative agencies to recognize that conservation 
and sustained yield of the range resources are fundamental to the 
future social and economic development of the Indian have resulted 
in a variegated pattern of accomplishment in conservation of the 
Indian-range resources. There has been severe depletion of the 
range forage, especially in the Southwest. On the forested reserva- 
tions of the Northwest where the forestry unit of the Indian Service 
assumed responsibility for the supervision of grazing activities prior 
to 1920, the ranges are in reasonably good condition. Finally in 
1930 the supervision of all grazing activities on Indian lands was 
delegated to the forestry unit and a positive program of range con- 
servation was started. The many problems have by no means been 
solved but sustained-yield management has now been initiated and 
further progress seems assured. 

Among the more important problems still to be dealt with are: 
Further reduction in numbers of livestock on many of the reserva- 



tions and especially in the Southwest; the development of more 
adequate range-management plans; the installation of needed range 
improvements, range reseeding, and control of soil erosion; insofar 
as possible, the readjustment of the complicated status of land owner- 
ship inside the reservations; and improving the knowledge and 
understanding on the part of the Indian of the importance of range 
conservation and how to accomplish it. 


Approximately 162 million acres of unreserved unappropriated 
public domain remained in the United States on June 30, 1934 prac- 
tically all of it in the 11 Western States. This is the last "picked' 
over" remnant of the once vast acreage of free public land, which 
except for 65 million acres now being organized for administration 
under the Grazing Act is a no man's land so far as conservation 
and orderly use of its resources are concerned. In addition, there 
also were on June 30, 1934, approximately 29 million acres of other 
Federal land in withdrawals for reclamation, preservation of oil, oil 
shale, coal, and minerals, and for other special purposes which, so 
far as grazing is concerned, is in the same status as the remaining 
unreserved public domain. The grazable range area involved is 
approximately 60,567,000 acres in the grazing districts, 67,224,000 
acres in the unreserved public domain, and 22,996,000 acres of other 
Federal lands. The forage resources on this land including that in 
grazing districts as shown in table 54 have been depleted approxi- 
mately 66 percent as compared to virgin condition and the soil and 
watershed values have been greatly impaired. The use of the land 
for wildlife conservation has been greatly reduced. The lack of 
regulation has led to serious social and economic maladjustments. 

Although the need for regulation to conserve and wisely use these 
resources has been recognized for many years and efforts to obtain 
action have been aggressively urged since late in the last century, 
nothing was done about it until recently. In June 1934 the Grazing 
Act was passed, but only after opposition which forced amend- 
ments that greatly lessened its value as an instrument for the solution 
of one of the Nation's major conservation problems. 

TABLE 54. Degree of depletion of virgin range in plant types on the combined 
usable range area of grazing districts, unreserved public domain, and minor 
Federal reservations 

Plant type 

area ] 






Tall grass 

1,000 acres 






Short grass .. 

12, 925 






Pacific bunchgrass 

2 552 





Semidesert grass . . 

10, 420 







49 384 






Southern desert shrub 
Salt-desert shrub 

32, 657 





Pi non-juniper 

26 863 











Open forests 






Total or average 

150 789 





Includes acres of usable range closed to grazing for various purposes. 



The title of the Grazing Act lists as its purposes : 

To stop injury to the public grazing lands by preventing overgrazing and soil 
deterioration ; to provide for their orderly use, improvement, and development ; 
to stabilize the livestock industry dependent upon the public range; and for 
other purposes. 

The Secretary of the Interior is authorized, in his discretion, to 
establish grazing districts, aggregating not to exceed 80 million acres, 
out of the vacant, unappropriated and unreserved lands of the conti- 
nental United States, exclusive of Alaska. The objects of the graz- 
ing districts are stated to be "to regulate their occupancy and use, 
to preserve the land and its resources from destruction or unnecessary 
injury, to provide for the orderly use, improvement, and develpp- 
merit of the range." The Secretary is directed to "make provision 
for the protection, administration, regulation and improvement of 
such grazing districts as may be created, * * *" and to "make 
such rules and regulations and establish such service, enter into such 
cooperative agreements, and do any and all things necessary" to 
accomplish the purposes of the act and to insure the objects of the 
grazing districts, and is authorized "to perform such work as may 
be necessary amply to protect and rehabilitate" the grazing districts. 
The Secretary is further directed to "specify from time to time the 
number of livestock that shall graze within a district and the seasons 
when a district shall be used for grazing" and to fix or determine 
reasonable fees for the use of the range. 

It would appear to be clear from the foregoing provisions that 
the Secretary of the Interior has broad discretionary power to do 
whatever is necessary, subject to appropriations for such purposes, to 
perfect administrative machinery, establish necessary rules and regu- 
lations, construct range improvements, regulate the use, and do what- 
ever else is necessary to stop injury from overgrazing and to conserve 
all the resources on the public lands set aside as grazing districts. 

The act also provides for the exchange of State or privately owned 
land within a grazing district for public land on the basis of equal 
value. Thus opportunity is afforded to clear up situations where 
intermingled privately owned or State lands otherwise would com- 
plicate administration. 

The grazing districts are closed to homestead entry except tracts 
which are classified by the Secretary of the Interior as more valuable 
for farm crops than for native forage plants. Supplemental to the 
Grazing Act, all of the remaining unreserved unappropriated public 
domain has been withdrawn from entry under the nonmineral land 
laws pending classification. Consequently, until the Executive with- 
drawal is modified, public-domain lands are no longer subject to 
disposal under the homestead laws. 


Accomplishment of the purposes and objects of the Grazing Act 
may be greatly hampered or even defeated by certain weaknesses in 
the" law. The act contains several restrictive clauses; others are 
ambiguous or conflicting and will require interpretation in the courts 
before a clear understanding is possible. At least, until these clauses 


are judicially construed, contentions and differences of opinion will 
handicap the making of administrative decisions and will impede, if 
not prevent, real accomplishment in conservation and use of the 
resources. Much will depend also upon the policies for administra- 
tion which are adopted under the broad discretionary powers dele- 
gated by the act. A clause in the opening sentence, "pending its final 
disposal", weakens the structure of the whole act. It implies that 
administration is only temporary and discourages far-sighted aims 
and objectives and initiation of the kind of action essential to the 
proper protection and conservation of the resources. It appears to 
make clear that the intent of the act is to dispose of these lands in 
the reasonably near future. The whole history and experience with 
this land has been that it is unsuited to private ownership and should 
remain in the jurisdiction of some public agency financially and 
administratively qualified to cope with the problems of management. 
The maximum of 80 million acres authorized to be included in 
grazing districts is only approximately one-half the public land 
needing attention. At best, therefore, the present problem is only 
half met. 


No specific provision is made for the protection of watershed values 
in order to control the menacing erosion or reduce the serious floods 
which originate on this land, beyond that which may be accomplished 
by revegetation and improvement for grazing purposes, or for the 
development and use of the other resources more especially game, 
wood, and recreation. On the other hand, the act is so explicit 
throughout with reference to use and development of the land for 
the grazing of livestock that there is bound to be strong and per- 
sistent contention that the act is designed wholly for the welfare of 
the livestock growers, or at least is so colored that great difficulty 
will be encountered in interpreting it otherwise. If the task involvecl 
no more than restoring the meager grazing resources, it might be 
argued that the land had better be abandoned without attempting 
conservation. But this land cannot be written off the books and dis- 
carded like a worn-out piece of machinery. Depletion has brought 
excessive run-off and water or wind erosion almost everywhere. 
Fully 50 percent of the usable range land comprises parts of water- 
sheds or is otherwise so situated that floods and silt are destructive 
to power and irrigation development and to adjoining land, and are 
making increasingly difficult the maintenance of highways and rail- 
roads across this vast domain. The breeding, on depleted public 
domain range lands adjoining agricultural sections, of insects in- 
jurious to farm crops promises to become a serious problem unless 
the present host plants, which have come in as the result of over- 
grazing, are replaced. These various consequences extend to areas 
and values far beyond the limits of the land itself. 

The grazing-district lands, in addition to producing forage for 
domestic livestock, afford other important possibilities of use. They 
constitute the natural feeding place or breeding grounds, or both, for 
various species of game animals and birds. Some areas support 
woodland or forests which are an important source of fuel and build- 
ing material for local use. Still other parts have high potential 


value for outdoor recreation and the human enjoyment of desert 
flora, geologic forms, and scenery. 

In order to realize the maximum contribution to local communi- 
ties and the general public welfare, there should be correlated use, 
protection, and development of all of the resources on the grazing 
districts so as to obtain the highest net benefit from all combined, 
in accordance with actual present and probable future needs. Per- 
haps this can be accomplished under the broad authority conferred 
upon the Secretary of the Interior. 


The act provides for the transfer of any lands within national 
forests chiefly valuable for grazing which can best be administered 
as grazing districts. There are several million acres of land now in 
national forests which perhaps might be administered under either 
the act of June 4, 1897, governing the national forests, or the Graz- 
ing Act of June 28, 1934. However, since the Grazing Act greatly 
restricts action to conserve and wisely use the resources of the land, 
certainly no good purpose could be served by placing in the grazing 
districts land now under national-forest status, which has been ef- 
fectively and satisfactorily administered for a c[aurter of a century. 

Moreover, the Grazing Act should have provided for the transfer 
of any lands in grazing districts or the open public domain which 
adjoin and form integral parts of timber bodies, watersheds, and 
range units largely within national forests. 84 

There are approximately 26 million acres of forest range land 
in the unreserved public domain and grazing districts in the Western 
States which should be added to the national forests in order to 
simplify administration, and devote the lands to the purposes for 
which they are chiefly valuable. It would also be possible for users 
of a single economic unit, now divided under two Federal jurisdic- 
tions, to deal with a single administrative agency. This would still 
leave approximately 1,000,000 acres of isolated tracts of forest range 
land for administration under the Grazing Act. 


Scattered practically throughout the more solid blocks of privately 
owned range land in the West are isolated tracts of public land of 
a few to several thousand acres in area, aggregating upward of 10 
million acres or more, which cannot readily be administered as parts 
of grazing districts. Most of them are submarginal for private 
ownership, or title long since would have passed. 

The Grazing Act provides for the leasing of such isolated or dis- 
connected tracts or parcels of 640 acres or more in area to owners of 
contiguous lands, under such terms and conditions as the Secretary 
may prescribe. It also provides that such tracts, not exceeding 760 
acres in area, may be sold at public auction when in the judgment 
of the Secretary of the Interior it is proper to do so. Still another 
provision in the act authorizes the sale of legal subdivisions of 
public land not exceeding 160 acres unsuited to cultivation, to own- 

84 Utah, South Dakota, and Nevada are the only . States where, at present, national 
forests may be created or enlarged by Executive order. 


ers of adjoining land regardless of whether the tract is or is not 
isolated or disconnected. These provisions in the act may be admin- 
istered so as to safeguard the public interest. On the other hand, 
if administered in accordance with the past policies and traditions 
of land disposal in the United States, they may become an effective 
means of defeating the purposes of the Grazing Act, jeopardizing 
the public interest on several million acres of public land, besides 
adding to the present excessive burden of private ownership of 
range land. 

Within the limits of the railroad land grants, for example, where 
the odd-numbered sections are alienated, the alternate sections, the 
large majority of which in many localities still belong to the Gov- 
ernment, are isolated tracts within the meaning of the law. In 
Nevada the odd-numbered sections in a strip approximately 320 
miles long and 40 miles wide were granted to a railroad company 
and most of the even-numbered sections still belong to the Govern- 
ment. If leased to the railroad companies, which are the owners 
of the contiguous land, it would be physically almost impossible 
to enforce requirements to protect the range and prevent overgrazing 
of the intermingled public land. The control would largely be in 
the hands of the present owners or lessees. 


The grazing-district land in the main is basically unfitted for 
development and use independent of lands in other forms of owner- 
ship or control. This public range is needed primarily to supple- 
ment tilled forage-crop lands and range lands in other forms of 
ownership and^control to the end that satisfactory rounded-out op- 
erating units involving all classes of agricultural land will be 
achieved. Accomplishment of this aim is complicated by the highly 
unsocial and uneconomic land-use situation which has developed 
under the inadequate land-disposal policy of the past. Under the 
system of economic and physical competition which has existed on 
the open public domain, the more aggressive stockmen in numerous 
instances have been able to crowd out their weaker neighbors and 
to monopolize the watering holes and better areas of range. 

For example, in one Western State having a large acreage of un- 
regulated range, past practice has permitted the larger livestock 
interests to acquire from the State land and water which might have 
been used to better advantage in production of cultivated forage 
crops to supplement the public range. This land they have utilized 
chiefly for the inefficient production of wild hay and to control large 
areas of public range to the exclusion of diversified agriculture. 
In 1916 one writer (6) stated, "Instead of numerous small farms 
cultivated by their owners, we see great land holdings owned largely 
by corporations and managed in such a way as to create conditions 
unfavorable to the welfare of the laborers and the public." The 
situation has changed but little since that time. To bring about the 
needed adjustments in land use and ownership involves the applica- 
tion of sound forward-looking social and economic principles in 
the administration of the Grazing Act. 

6494636 20 


In this connection, with reference to the issuance of permits for 
the grazing of livestock, the act provides that : 

Preference shall be given * * * to those within or near a district who 
are landowners engaged in the livestock business, bona-fide occupants or 
settlers, or owners of water or water rights, as may be necessary to permit 
the proper use of lands, water or water rights owned, occupied, or leased 
by them. * * * 

To the extent that this clause provides for such an integration of 
public lands with other grazing and forage-crop lands of a locality 
as will result in the highest use of all the land, it specifies a highly 
desirable objective. However, to attach the grazing privilege to the 
land, water, or water rights in a manner to permit their "proper 
use" regardless of all other circumstances would result in dividing 
the available public-range resource and attaching it in proportional 
quantities to all of the owned land or water with which it might 
properly be used. To do so would perpetuate and enhance existing 
monopolies in land use which have been established in many in- 
stances by the stronger individuals taking advantage of their weaker 

Take, for example, a locality where neighboring small settlers 
and large-sized livestock outfits, each owning or leasing land and 
water in equal proportion to the number of livestock they own, all 
use in common a public range having insufficient grazing capacity 
properly to use all of the land and water owned or leased by them ; 
the small operators under such conditions and under a possible in- 
terpretation of the law would be required to reduce their number of 
livestock in the same ratio as the large operators, regardless if to 
do so would impoverish the small operators ; it would be impossible 
under such circumstances to impose proportionally heavier reduc- 
tions on the larger outfits in favor of the small settlers in order that 
the latter might continue to maintain their standard of living from 
the land and livestock. In other words, the act appears 1 to give 
preference to existing property rights rather than to human needs 
in the distribution of public benefits. 

In Nevada where most of the springs and streams are held by 
the ownership of small tracts of privately owned land or under the 
livestock-water law of that State, this clause in the Grazing Act 
might be construed as granting to such holders the use of all the 
surrounding public range land that might be necessary to permit the 
proper use of the available water. In that event, the old practice of 
controlling large areas of public domain by the ownership of a few 
acres of land strategically located, would be confirmed by law. 

The use of public range in connection with leased land or water, 
is theoretically commendable to the extent that it would help the 
small owner to enlarge his grazing preference and in that manner 
improve his standard of living. But this also is a double-edged 
sword. The larger resident operator or transient stockman fre- 
quently is the stronger competitor and higher bidder for lands 
offered for lease. Moreover leasing gives the absentee property 
owner benefits which more properly should be given to local residents 
who need them to maintain permanent homes in the locality where 
the public range is situated. Therefore, it appears not to be in the 
interest of improving local social conditions to give equal considera- 
tion to leased and owned land in distributing public-range privileges. 



Several provisions of the Grazing Act contain language which 
might be construed as a grant to favorably situated stockmen of 
indefeasible rights and privileges in the use of forage and related 
resources on grazing-district lands, even though the exercise of these 
rights and privileges prevents an equitable allotment of such re- 
sources. For example, section 1 contains the following provision: 

Nothing in this act shall be construed in any way to diminish, restrict, or 
impair any right which has been heretofore or may be hereafter initiated 
under existing law validly affecting the public lands, and which is maintained 
pursuant to such law except as otherwise expressly provided in this act * * * 

At the end of section 3 it is further provided that 

So far as consistent with the purposes and provisions of this act, grazing 
privileges recognized and acknowledged shall be adequately safeguarded, but 
the creation of the grazing district or the issuance of a permit pursuant to 
the provisions of this act shall not create any right, title, interest, or estate in 
or to the lands. 

While persons hitherto using the range involved did so under a 
sort of implied license without acquiring a vested right thereto, the 
provisions of the act quoted above, although aimed to deny the crea- 
tion of right in the land itself, imply a right of user amounting to a 
property right which the Secretary of the Interior cannot disturb. 
Should it be so construed, his administrative control of such land as 
elsewhere provided in the act would be seriously hampered, if not 
defeated, and he would therefore be compelled to suffer a continua- 
tion of present conditions regardless of what the public interest 
might require in bringing about properly regulated management. 

There can be no doubt as to the intent of that part of section 3 
reading as follows: 

* * * except that no permittee complying with the rules and regula- 
tions laid down by the Secretary of the Interior shall be denied the renewal 
of such permit, if such denial will impair the value of the grazing unit of 
the permittee, when such unit is pledged as security for any bona-fide loan. 

Obviously the limitation placed on the powers of the Secretary 
of the Interior by this provision may be used by permittees mate- 
rially to restrict, if not wholly to defeat, adjustments in range use 
that are necessary if grazing privileges are to be equitably dis- 
tributed in the interest of home and community development or for 
the purpose of improving and protecting the range. There are 
very few livestock or ranch properties which do not continuously 
constitute security for a loan, the value of which would be impaired 
in varying degrees by denying the owner a renewal in full of his 
permit. This provision discriminates against the owner who hap- 
pens to be free of debt when he applies for a renewal and most 
important makes it possible for any permittee to continue his exclu- 
sive use of the range and obtain other undue advantages by simply 
using his livestock and ranch property as security for a loan, the 
amount of such loan apparently being immaterial. In short this 
provision enables permittees very easily to perpetuate their monoply 
regardless of how adversely such perpetuation affects the interests 
of the community and the general public. 

The dangers involved in the establishment of rights in public 
resources is illustrated by the accumulated experience of Europe 
There the public interest has suffered in three ways: Large 


areas of forest, both public and private, have been needlessly de- 
stroyed or severely damaged; the progress of agriculture has been 
held back by the perpetuation of uneconomical land use and stock- 
raising methods; and the rights themselves have been the source of 
much wasteful litigation and ill feeling. Despite the struggle going 
back over several centuries to extinguish these rights, many are still 
in existence. About the only way the situation can be met is by 
outright purchase and then only where the holder agrees to the bar- 
gain, except when there is cause to exercise the right of eminent 
domain. There is grave danger that the safeguarding of privileges 
to use public domain as set forth in the Grazing Act at the present 
time, if allowed to remain will eventually become more securely fixed 
by right of long usage. 

In the United States, the fixing of rights to use the range is seen 
to have highly undesirable features at the present moment, but it 
may become a more serious menace in the future. Vested rights in 
Europe originated when forests were abundant and pasturage was 
scarce, and under such circumstances damage to the forest was of 
less import. With time the situation was reversed and grazing 
rights have become a real handicap to meeting the needs for timber. 
A similar reversal of conditions may develop in this country. As 
the needs for protection and use of the land for watershed purposes, 
game, and recreation multiply, the fixing of rights on the grazing 
districts will seriously interfere with these purposes. Quite as im- 
portant also is the lessening by fixing of rights of the opportunity to 
correct the uneconomical land use which has grown up in the West. 


If the States fully exercise the jurisdiction expressly conferred on 
them by two provisions of the act, the Federal Government may find, 
it impossible to administer grazing districts in an effective manner. 
The first of these provisions is found in section 1 and provides that 
nothing in the act shall be construed in any way "as limiting or 
restricting the power or authority of any State as to matters within 
its jurisdiction." The other is contained in section 16, which reads 
as follows: 

SBO. 16. Nothing in this Act shall be construed as restricting the respective 
States from enforcing any and all statutes enacted for police regulation, nor 
shall the police power of the respective States be, by this Act, impaired or 
restricted, and all laws heretofore enacted by the respective States or any 
thereof, or that may hereafter be enacted as regards public health or public 
welfare, shall at all times be in full force and effect : Provided, however, That 
nothing in this section shall be construed as limiting or restricting the power 
and authority of the United States. 

These two provisions are ambiguous and might be construed to 
mean that existing and future State laws will apply to grazing dis- 
tricts established under the Grazing Act and will prevail over any 
conflicting or inconsistent regulation of the Secretary of the In- 
terior. If so construed, regulatory control over these districts thus 
in large measure would be turned over to the several States and the 
authority of the Secretary of the Interior would be so limited that 
he could not take any action with respect to the grazing districts 


which conflicts with State law, particularly if the proviso at the 
end of section 16 is strictly construed. However, since the legisla- 
tive intent reflected in this section and in the last sentence of section 
3 is not clear, it is not yet possible to determine accurately how such 
provisions will be interpreted. Therein lies one of the major difficul- 
ties of the act. Many parts are so ambiguous and so conflicting 
that controversies are bound to occur until such time as the act has 
had judicial interpretation. 


Obviously much will depend upon the kind of administration 
developed under the broad provisions of the act with respect to 
meeting the needs both of those dependent upon the range and the 
broader public interest. Section 9 stipulates that the Secretary of 
the Interior "shall provide, by suitable rules and regulations, for 
cooperation with local associations of stockmen, State land officials, 
and official State agencies engaged in conservation or propagation 
of wildlife interested in the use of the grazing district." This pro- 
vision is a favorable feature, resembling that adopted under rules 
and regulations applying to the administration of grazing on the 
national forests, in that it recognizes the desirability of giving the 
user an advisory voice in local affairs and induces voluntary in- 
terest in the range. Whether or not it should be made the main 
instrument of administration seems doubtful. 

Rules have been adopted by the Department of the Interior speci- 
fying the procedure under this clause which provide for the selec- 
tion of stockmen representatives 35 for all grazing districts and for 
wildlife and recreational representatives in one of the western; 
States, New Mexico. 36 In commenting on the procedure for selecting 
stockmen representatives, the Annual Report of the Secretary of the 
Interior for the fiscal year ending Jane 30, 1935 (p. 16), states as 
follows : 

* * * the Cervices of local persons familiar with the range problems will 
be secured by a special election of district advisors from among local stock- 
men. * * * By this means the practical local viewpoint will be available at 
all times in the administration of the law. * * * They will take the regular 
oath of office of a Federal official and will be the local governing agency as to 
all matters of range regulatory nature concerning their particular district. 
The Interior Department will exercise necessary supervision and provide basic 
technical criteria for conservation of natural resources. 

This no doubt is an indication of the intended form of administra- 
tion. It places the large balance of power in the hands of the live- 
stock interests and leaves to the Government representatives the 
mere exercise of supervision and to "provide basic technical criteria" 
for use by the stockmen. 

To grant to the stockmen the major controlling power in the 
administration of the grazing districts implies that they will exer- 
cise the necessary self-restraint and denial in immediate use and 
misuse for the sake of the permanence of the range, something rarely 

United States Department of the Interior, Division of Grazing. Rules Providing for 
Special Elections for District Advisors to Assist in Management of Grazing Districts. 
U. S. Dept. Int., Dept. Grazing Circ. 1, 5 pp. 1935. [Multigraphed.] 

86 United States Department of the Interior, Division of Grazing. Special Rules for 
Grazing Districts in New Mexico. U. S. Dept. Int., Dept. Grazing Circ. 3, 2 pp. 1935. 


exercised on their own lands. Conservation of the resources requires 
a large fund of technical knowledge of a difficult problem and cash 
outlays to restore productivity. It involves a high degree of public 
spirit to forego range use and the denial of personal profit in order 
to realize on public values in watershed protection and game con- 
servation, which may be considered by the individual stockman to 
be of little if any direct benefit to him. There must be cooperative- 
ness in an unusually high degree to prevent individuals holding posi- 
tions of power from using them to their own immediate advantage. 
All these are the very antithesis of the doctrine of laissez f aire which 
has resulted in the present condition, not only of the grazing-district 
range itself but of the bulk of the area of privately owned and State 
lands throughout the West. 

What is needed, in addition to the cooperation of all classes of 
users and full opportunity to express their voice in an advisory 
capacity, is a well-planned, closely knit, positive administration with 
adequate technical skill which will give full consideration to the 
broader community, State, and interstate public interest as well as 
to the local livestock industry. 

The problem of stopping damage and restoring the grazing capac- 
ity of the grazing districts is highly difficult and technical, because 
of the serious depletion, adverse soil and climatic conditions, and low 

Eroductivity. It will involve heavy reductions in the numbers of 
vestock grazed and management from more than a short-sighted 
viewpoint. Other essentials are the protection of watersheds, con- 
servation of game, and the development of the use of the resources 
other than livestock forage. Still another of the big tasks is to 
bring about the proper integration of use of the grazing-district land 
with other agricultural lands both inside and adjoining the grazing 
district, and to place the capacity of the land to support dependent 
populations ahead of large profits for a relatively few; problems 
having broad public aspects. It is doubtful whether these functions 
will be exercised under a system of administration of self -regulation 
by the stockmen who use the range. 

Finally the Grazing Act sets up an agency in the Department of the 
Interior to deal with agricultural problems, whereas practically all 
other agricultural functions of the Federal Government, including 
administration of the national-forest ranges, are grouped in the De- 
partment of Agriculture. Another problem therefore is that of 
how best to unify responsibility for range administration in a single 
department of the Government. 


Approximately 51 percent of all western range lands are in private 
ownership. According to estimates based on the best available in- 
formation as shown in table 54a only 12 percent of this land has 
been maintained or restored to within 25 percent of its virgin condi- 
tion. The least depletion is found in the tall-grass and open-forest 
types ; only approximately 5 percent of the total area of all the other 
types is in the moderate depletion class. Among the factors which 
have contributed to depletion, as pointed out in earlier sections of 
this report, are excessive stocking or other rule-of -thumb manage- 
ment, lack of legislation that permitted acquisition of land in units 



best suited to proper use of land for range-livestock production, un- 
sound financing, high interest, heavy taxation, poor marketing facil- 
ities, competition that compelled excessive ownership of land and 
inflation of land values, and other conditions some of which the 
private landowner has been unable to control The privately owned 
range lands which are in the better condition class today are of 
especial interest in developing a program for the solution of western 
range problems, 

TABLE 54a. Degree of depletion of virgin range try plant types on privately 

owned lands 

Proportion of total ownership 

Plant type 







age de- 
gree of 












Tall grass 






Short grass 

148, 144 






Pacific bunchgrass 

35, 913 






Semidesert grass 

48, 425 
34 791 








Southern desert shrub 

10, 643 





Salt-desert shrub 

5 251 







20, 900 







10, 640 






Open forest 

All types 

375. 546 






The privately owned range lands which are exceptions to the more 
prevalent condition of serious depletion may be classified into four 
groups. These are (1) isolated cases of individual ranges in good 
condition within areas where, because of the prevalence of unfavor- 
able natural factors, the general situation is one of depletion; (2) 
ranches or groups of ranches within regions where natural and other 
factors are more or less favorable, as in parts of the Great Plains; 
(3) ranges in areas where natural conditions practically dictate the 
continuous practice of range-conservation measures, as in the sand- 
hills region of Nebraska, and (4) on privately owned lands in and 
adjacent to the national forests. These privately owned ranch lands 
in good condition have never received the thorough study they re- 
quire in order to set forth with finality the contributing factors. 
This analysis, therefore, must be based on general knowledge and 
information. However, the results from a few examples are indic- 


With few exceptions natural conditions west of the Great Plains 
render difficult the conservation of the range. The rainfall is low 
and often poorly distributed and droughts are frequent. Few of 
the native plant species or types are highly resistant to grazing 
and the grazing capacity is naturally low. 'The soil on extensive 
areas is easily damaged by trampling. The composition and char- 


acter of the vegetation is such that damage to the range may occur 
long before it forces a reduction in the number of stock being grazed. 
The lack of control on the extensive open public domain has often 
caused pressure to overuse privately owned land. These are only a 
few of the adverse factors with which the private owner has had 
to deal. In spite of this general situation there are scattered ranch 
lands in good condition where the owners have successfully con- 
served the range. 

Two or three range units on Kolob Mountain in southwestern 
Utah, for example, have been maintained in good condition as con- 
trasted with severely depleted holdings adjoining them. The own- 
ers of the good ranges purchased their lands a good many years ago 
at relatively low prices and thus have escaped excessive interest 
charges on land indebtedness. They have stocked their ranges con- 
servatively and the original cover of snowberry, mountain brome- 
grass, weeds, and other plants carry sheep through the summer 
season at the rate of two-thirds of an acre for each animal for each 
month. This is approximately a one-third higher grazing capacity 
than on some of the adjoining ranges, which have been overstocked. 
In the whole State of Utah there are perhaps a dozen such well- 
cared-for private ranges. 

In Idaho at least one wool growers' association has done a credit- 
able job of forage maintenance on most of its spring-fall range, a 
large part of which is leased from the State. The association has 
adopted rules limiting the number of stock to be grazed and the 
seasons of use, and practices deferred and rotation grazing. The 
enterprise has been handled under the guidance of one or two pro- 
gressive stockmen who have foreseen the value of sustained-yield 
range management. The net result of these factors is that the range 
is far above average in condition. 

In California a number of ranches are used continuously for 
range some for over 50 years on the basis of sustained yield of 
forage. Seasonal deferred and rotation grazing has been prac- 
ticed. Distribution of stock has been improved by fencing and 
water developments. One ranch in Marin County once badly de- 
pleted has been brought virtually to its pristine condition. A strict 
type of deferred grazing was followed. The unit was well balanced, 
and the operator devoted all of his time to his ranching business. 

In Humboldt County, Calif., a 40,000-acre ranch, used for live- 
stock production for 50 years, still supports a maximum stand of 
California oatgrass. The area is an economic and balanced unit. 
The operator has been careful not to overgraze and has practiced 
deferred grazing. He has not expanded speculatively. 

An old Spanish land grant in Colorado is now being managed 
under deferred and rotation methods of grazing, and stocked con- 
servatively so as to restore the original carrying capacity that was 
seriously depleted by former lessees. 

The reasons for the individual cases of privately owned ranges 
in good condition west of the Great Plains, which represent prob- 
ably less than 5 percent of all range lands in private ownership 
in that area exclusive of those in and adjacent to the national forests, 
may be summarized as follows: (1) Reasonable cost of range land, 
either purchase cost or rental ; (2) well-rounded-out operating units ; 


(3) close personal attention to use of the range; (4) the application 
of some of the fundamental principles of range management; and, 
(5) most important of all, an appreciation that conservative use 
of the range to maintain yield of forage is the foundation to sus- 
tained livestock production. 


In the Great Plains short-grass type naturally favorable factors 
have contributed much to the 8 percent of privately owned range in 
that type that is in good condition. Within this region rainfall is 
15 to 20 inches and a relatively larger proportion of it falls during 
the growing season than further west. The dominant vegetation 
over large areas is grama, buffalo, western wheatgrass, sedges, and 
other sod-forming species which are relatively resistant to graz- 
ing, trampling, and drought, and recover quickly from set-backs if 
given reasonable opportunity, as compared with the bunch grasses 
and other species which occur in many western range plant types. 
The land, on the whole, is flat to rolling, and watering places may 
be developed relatively cheaply factors which favor good distribu- 
tion of livestock on the range. In many localities these favorable 
factors are offset in some degree by light soils which are low in 
productivity or are easily damaged by trampling. Prudent man- 
agement also has contributed to the ranges which are in good con- 
dition in the Plains region, but on the whole the more favorable 
natural factors have been the dominating influence. 

Sarvis (119) has found in his work at the northern Great Plains 
field station near Mandan, N. Dak., that under a very heavy stocking 
of one steer to 5 acres as compared to a proper stocking of one 
steer to 7 acres during the same grazing season the decline in range 
takes place very slowly and that after 19 years the grazing capacity 
had declined only 46 percent on the overgrazed range. His studies 
show that due to the recuperative capacity of the grasses almost 
complete recovery took place where all of the grasses had not been 
destroyed, in 1 or 2 years of average or better rainfall with com- 
plete rest or moderate to light use. He reported very marked im- 
provement during 1935 on extensive areas of privately owned land 
in western North and South Dakota following the almost complete 
removal of livestock on account of the 1934 drought. 

Sarvis' studies and Hurtt's (76) in Montana both show that cattle 
do not make as good gains on overstocked as compared to properly 
stocked range. In other words, overuse of the range in the Great 
Plains is quickly reflected in the condition of livestock a reversal 
of the situation on many range lands further west which encour- 
ages more conservative stocking when the aim is to obtain maximum 
weights of animals at marketing time. 

The Pumpkin Creek-Mizpah grazing district in Montana is an ex- 
ample of the improvement in range lands obtainable where favorable 
natural conditions are coupled with the practice of range manage- 
ment by progressive stockmen. Although conditions are not as 
favorable here, as on many other parts of the Great Plains, the com- 
bination of good rainfall distribution, soil, and character of vegeta- 
tion is better for maintenance of the range than where bunch grass 


is the chief forage. The present association range of approximately 
100,000 acres grew out of a desire of the users of the area to solve 
an almost impossible land-ownership pattern which had grown out 
of the past land policy and to stabilize the cost of range feed. 

Forty-one percent of the area was railroad grant lands, 25 percent 
open public domain, 6 percent State, and 28 percent privately owned 
land in small tracts. The major object of the legislation establishing 
the grazing district was to coordinate all of these ownerships into an 
integral unit of range land. The key to control was the public 
domain, which under the permissive policy of the Government was 
open to use by all and subject to regulation by none. The 75 percent 
of non-Federal lands represented most of the grazing capacity within 
the area. 

The act authorizing the withdrawal of the public domain con- 
tained an important section providing for cooperation between all 
interested agencies and landowners. Coordination was effected 
through organization of the users into an association which leased 
the railroad land, exchanged the State land for Government land, 
leased or offered to lease the small privately owned tracts, and pur- 
chased the tax-delinquent lands. The entire acreage was pooled so 
that it could be managed and administered as a community range. 

Regulations for the administration and government of the area, 
adapted from those in effect on the national forest ranges, were 
framed by the association and approved by the Secretary of the Inte- 
rior. They included the permit system, fees based upon the estab- 
lished rate per head as determined by the annual expenses of the 
association, allocation of use according to dependence of individual 
owners upon the range in order properly to utilize their owned range 
and crop Land. An inventory of the range resources following For- 
est Service methods was made for use as a base in determining graz- 
ing capacity and a plan of management. 

The plan of local administration and management has operated 
well, and persons familiar with the area report that the range has 
improved. Thus the naturally favorable factors, solution of an 
unsatisfactory mosaic of land ownership, the desire of a small group 
of stockmen with common interests to bind themselves together, and 
the adoption of simple principles of range movement applicable to 
the prevailing conditions have resulted in benefits to the whole 

In the flint hills of Kansas and Osage hills of Oklahoma natu- 
rally favorable factors and the type of livestock production have re- 
sulted in the maintenance of the range. The 30 inches of rainfall 
and a soil formed largely from limestone, but too shallow to till, pro- 
duces high forage yields. Rehabilitation in this type according to 
Dr. A. E. Aldous, of the Kansas Agricultural College, will take place 
under 2 years of rest and 2 years of moderate use if a small number 
of the original plants remain to start with. Moreover, much of the 
range is used for fattening steers on pasture which discourages exces- 
sive stocking because to do so results in poor gains in weight by the 

In Texas are found a number of large privately owned ranches, 
some of them in excess of 100,000 acres in area, have been improved 
by wells, reservoirs, and fences, and divided into seasonal pastures 


and moderately stocked so that plentiful pasturage is supplied except 
in the severe drought years. 


The sand hills of Nebraska represent a unique situation because 
natural conditions have virtually dictated a policy of conservative 
use which has resulted in range preservation. Other factors have 
contributed, but they are secondary. This is a compact area of 
11,520,000 acres on a low rolling sand-dune formation which has 
become fixed by the tall-grass cover located in the northwestern part 
of the State. The soil is a fine sand, subject to severe wind erosion 
when not protected by vegetation (72). 

Early attempts at crop farming on 640-acre homesteads under the 
Kinkaid Act failed in this section. The fine sandy soil, once the 
vegetative cover was removed, became moving sand dunes. Taught 
by bitter experience the survivors consolidated their holdings into 
larger units, abandoned cropping practices, fenced their lands, and 
engaged irt livestock production, based upon using about 80 percent 
of the land for pasture, 18 percent for native hay meadows, and less 
than 2 percent for crops. 

Despite the delicate balance in which nature holds these lands, the 
climate, the native vegetation, and the absorptive capacity of the 
soil favor rehabilitation after depletion. Seventy-six to 80 percent 
of the 16 to 21 inches of precipitation falls between April and Sep- 
tember and are readily absorbed. Forage yields are reduced by 
drought, but complete failures in forage production are unknown. 

The soil dictates forcibly the methods of management which will 
maintain a plant cover. Overgrazing or prairie fires expose the sand 
to wind action and cause rejuvenation of blow-outs. Extreme care 
must be exercised to prevent trailing or undue concentration of live- 
stock at water holes or wells because the depletion under abuse is 
rapid and conclusive. The one essential that must be observed is 
the maintenance of a covering of vegetation to prevent wind erosion. 

Other factors have been helpful. The production of grass-fat beef 
or of fat feeders that may be finished on corn has encouraged light 
stocking to insure the best gains. Costs of production have been kept 
low enough to avoid pressure on the range. Favorable location and 
transportation facilities result in a short haul to market and oppor- 
tunity to take advantage of the higher markets. However, conserva- 
tive range use is the principal factor accountable for a restoration 
on privately owned land comparing favorably with that on the Ne- 
braska National Forest, where the grazing capacity has been built 
up 55 percent since 1911. 


National-forest administration has had a profound influence on a 
large proportion of the privately owned range lands in good condi- 
tion in the open-forest type (table 54a). Much of this land lies in 
and adjacent to the national forests. There are approximately 10.5 
million acres of alienated grazing land intermingled with Federal 
land within the exterior boundaries of the national forests. The 
great bulk of this is privately owned land, the remainder being in 


State or other public ownership. A far greater acreage of privately 
owned land in the open-forest type lies adjacent to the national 

Management of 3,677,000 acres of the alienated land inside the 
public forest boundaries is waived to the Forest Service. A still 
greater acreage, both inside and adjacent, is handled under the "on 
and off" permit system, the private land merely being handled as 
part of forest-range units. This has resulted in the privately owned 
lands being managed practically as national-forest range. 


The best available estimates indicate that only 12 percent of the 
privately owned range land in the western United States have been 
maintained in good condition. These lands (see table 54a) are found 
chiefly in the sand-hills region of the tall-grass type in Nebraska, 
and in the open-forest-range type within and adjacent to the national 
forests of the West. In the short-grass type in the Great Plains, 
approximately 8 percent of the privately owned land is in good 
condition, and throughout the remainder of the West are found a 
few scattered tracts. 

Natural favorable factors, such as better-than-average growing 
conditions, plant species which are resistant to grazing and have 
high recuperative capacity, such as the sod-forming species in the 
Great Plains, a firm soil, good grazing capacity, and conditions which 
favor good distribution of livestock on the range have played an 
important role in maintaining many of the private ranges in good 
condition. Still other contributing factors which have favored 
range preservation are low purchase cost and freedom from exclusive 
interest charges on land, low-cost public range in connection with 
privately owned range, good business management, well-rounded-out 
operating units, favorable location with regard to markets, and 
special-use range, such as that for grass fattening of livestock. That 
these natural and economic factors have contributed materially to 
the avoidance of range depletion is not to be minimized. However, 
the fact cannot be overlooked that there are, or at least were before 
range depletion occurred, a far greater number of privately owned 
or controlled range units on which most if not all of these factors 
are favorable than there are such units upon which the range has been 
maintained in good condition. Furthermore, there are units where, in 
spite of many of these factors being unfavorable, range depletion 
has not occurred. 

To deliberate efforts to so use the range that the grazing capacity 
will be sustained must be credited the greatest measure of range 
maintenance on privately owned lands. There are individual owners 
who have learned from experience, as in the Nebraska sand hills, or 
for other reasons have come to realize that their range land is not 
an inexhaustible mine but that it must receive proper consideration 
in use if it is to continue to be a source of forage for sustaining live- 
stock production. These owners have practiced conservative grazing 
and applied simple range-management practices in order to maintain 
their basic resource. There is no other single range region where 
range-livestock production is on as sound a basis as in the sand hills 
of Nebraska, where stern necessity early taught stockmen that 
conservative grazing pays. 


Before passing to a discussion of the steps required to halt further- 
deterioration of the range, and to restore it to something approaching 
its original productivity and greatest public benefit, it is essential to 
evaluate what the range resource and its depletion mean to the West 
and to the Nation as a whole. 

An appraisal of either the resource or its depletion is possible only 
in terms of their social and economic significance. The production 
of livestock, the water yield, and the income, pleasure, and diversion 
from the wildlife and recreational opportunities dependent on range 
lands mean nothing unless they add to human welfare; and on the 
other hand, reduced grazing capacity, floods and erosion, depletion of 
wild game, and impairment of recreational facilities carry no import 
unless they detract from the well-being and standards of living 
necessary to personal and national security. 

To all of these products and services the vegetation on the range 
is the key. Without it, all the other benefits to mankind that range 
lands yield are void. With it livestock thrive, parched lands are 
watered, game and other wildlife have ample forage and cover, the 
natural beauty and grandeur of desert, plain, and mountain side are 
enhanced, and upon this renewable and self -perpetuating resource, 
more valuable than all the gold the West has mined, a thrifty and 
enduring civilization can be maintained. The purpose of this chap- 
ter is to review the functions of the vegetation cover of the range 
from the angles of watershed conservation, wildlife preservation, 
recreation, and the integrated agriculture of which the range is an 
inseparable part. 



By REED W. BAILEY, Director, and Charles A. Connaughton, Silviculturist, 
Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station 

Preservation of satisfactory watershed conditions on range lands 
is vital to the well-being of the West and therefore is of concern to 
the entire Nation. Most towns and villages, many cities such as Los 
Angeles, Salt Lake City, and Denver, and innumerable ranches and 
farms rely on a usable and adequate supply of water produced wholly 
or in part on range-land watersheds. Irrigation enterprises repre- 
senting investments of nearly 6 billion dollars depend on a stable soil 
mantle and stream flow from water-yielding ranges. Water power 
and recreation for multitudes of people are sustained in many cases 
by stream flow from range watersheds. A large population is de- 
pendent on the soil of range lands to produce forage upon which the 
2-billion-dollar grazing industry and its source of income are based. 

The range watershed situation presents three aspects : Eighty-five 
percent of the flow of important western streams comes from about 
232 million acres, of which 79 percent is range lands. Silt is being 
borne down into these streams from erosion on approximately 352 
million acres, practically all of which is grazed. Finally, much of 
the remainder of western range lands, such as those in the Great 
Basin and Great Plains, is eroding so seriously that it is imperiling 
productive capacity of the land, even though none of this eroded 
material is contributing to larger streams. 

All this points clearly to the great importance of constantly main- 
taining an unbroken and productive soil mantle on all range land 
and the maximum yield of water from range watersheds; yet little 
thought has been given to the conservation of these values on other 
than the national forests and some municipally owned areas. De- 
pletion of vegetation, as shown previously, has been the rule for the 
most part under other types of ownership or control, and with it 
have come floods and erosion menacing the social and economic 
security of the entire region. The destruction of soil and impair- 
ment of watershed values is without doubt one of the gravest results 
from misuse of the range. 


The nature of the vegetation and soil mantle that clothed the 
watersheds of the virgin range, the normal course of stream flow r 
and the characteristics of natural erosion can be estimated from the 
testimony of present conditions on well-managed national forests and 
protected municipal watersheds, from such vestiges of primitive 
areas as have thus far escaped depletion, and to some extent from 
geologic evidence. Here may be seen how, during past centuries, 
soils were safeguarded against excessive erosion and leaching by the 
binding power of plant roots which filled the surface and subsurface 
layers and by the physical protection which the plant cover and 



organic mulch provided. As rains fell on the area, the full impact 
was broken by the aerial parts of the vegetation, thereby preventing 
compacting of the soil surface. On the virgin range dead plants 
and herbage formed a ground litter, and eventually mixed year after 
year with the mineral soil and produced a loose, porous earth mantle 
which absorbed and retained against evaporation the maximum 
quantity of water from rain and melting snow. The channels 
formed by plant roots facilitated percolation. As the surface water 
ran off its velocity was reduced by plant and litter obstructions which 
checked and broke up the flow. Forest and shrub litter prevented 
direct access to the soil by water flowing off slopes, and a similar 
effect though not so complete in semiarid areas resulted from litter 
of herbaceous plants, hence run-off water was clear or almost so. 
The water absorbed by the topsoil percolated through the lower soil 
depths and rock crevices to issue forth later as springs. These 
maintain the flow of rivers and streams that have made possible 
irrigation agriculture, electricity for industry, and municipal water 

In that stable and porous soil mantle the young nation pioneering 
its way into the West had a priceless resource of which it was then 
and for many decades thereafter unaware. It was a resource built 
up by the age-old process of soil building and normal erosion, which 
progresses with the slowness of geologic time, and has throughout 
millenniums sculptured and molded the face of the earth. The soil 
of the mountain slopes and the alluvium of the valley floors have 
been produced in this way even the rocks of which most mountains 
are composed have been formed of sediments which are products of 
older periods of erosion and deposition. The principal method of 
transportation of the weathered material from the slopes was by 
natural gravity creep rather than by stripping and gullying by 
water the creep of the soil being rarely rapid enough to disturb 
plant populations or modify their general aspect. Surface run-off 
carried a minimum of silt, destructive floods were unknown on many 
areas and uncommon on most others, and streams were generally 
clear, receiving what silt load they carried from the bottom of chan- 
nels rather than from the vegetated slopes and protected stream 

Ordinarily erosion progressed so slowly that soil was formed or 
accumulated slightly more rapidly than it was removed. Only under 
unusual conditions, as in Bryce Canyon, Utah, on certain Mancos 
shale areas in Colorado and Utah, on the Chinle bad lands of Arizona, 
and in the Breaks of the Missouri River, have adverse climatic and 
geologic conditions prevented the fixing of the land surfaces by soil 
formation and plant growth. In these relatively few instances, 
run-off has been rapid and normal erosion pronounced, giving rise 
to muddy streams whose flow fluctuated greatly. 

Elsewhere soil and vegetative cover were sustained by virtue of a 
delicate balance between the constructive and destructive forces. On 
the one hand the weathering of rock and plant succession built up the 
soil mantle, and the vegetation that blanketed it served to hold it in 
place; on the other hand, the destructive forces of a rigorous and 
variable climate and of steep slopes operated against this accumula- 
tion and stabilization. Vegetation was invariably the deciding factor 
in the balance. The presence of a natural plant cover enabled the 
constructive forces to nold sway and to preserve watershed values. 




When the white man's herds of cattle and sheep multiplied beyond 
the capacity of the range to carry them properly, depletion of vegeta- 
tion upset this natural balance and the utility of the virgin watersheds 
became impaired. As overgrazing and fire reduced the density of the 

Slight or no erosion 
Material erosion 
Severe erosion 
Severe wind erosion 


As a result of range depletion, accelerated erosion is fast removing incredible quantities 
of soil from large areas, resulting in the devastation of range and agricultural lands 
and serious silting of irrigation improvements. In this process, the fertile topsoil 
on which the range depends is the first to go. 

range cover, and as the litter and humus layers were broken through, 
the devastating forces of soil erosion were greatly accelerated (fig. 65) 
and unretarded run-off seriously modified the natural stream flow 
and caused many floods. 

6494636 21 


Over large areas of the western range the original fertile, sponge- 
like soil cover has been gashed and stripped off, exposing a sterile, less 
pervious substratum. Deep gullies and gorgelike channels are com- 
mon in the valleys and meadows, and slopes have been cut and carved 
until mere islands of fertile soil remain. Watersheds that formerly 
yielded only steady, quiet-flowing streams and rivers now produce 
devastating floods when rains come and a shrunken, inadequate flow 
at other times. Depletion of plant cover has not only reduced the 
utility of the unregulated range land but with it has come such a 
biologic upset to watershed lands that they have become a menace to 
agricultural, industrial, and social welfare. The full meaning of this 
threat to the well-being of the entire range country becomes clearer 
as the havoc wrought is examined in detail. 


The flood menace in the West has no static quality. As the 
effects of depletion are brought into action by abnormalities of storm, 
floods increase year by year in frequency and intensity. Scarcely 
a day passes during the period of summer rainstorms that western 
newspapers of one locality or another do not carry accounts of de- 
struction by water and mud-rock flows. To be sure, such catas- 
trophes are very different from the great inundations that the 
easterner has learned to expect from protracted heavy rains and 
melting snow. High water, sometimes reaching flood proportions, 
is also common in the spring in many western streams. But sum- 
mer flash floods resulting from a single brief intensified storm or 
so-called cloudburst may be equally destructive of life and property. 
A stream course may be dry one minute and the next filled to the 
brim by a rush of silt- and debris-laden water that within the hour 
will be utterly gone. Not a drop of rain may have fallen in the 
valley lowlands upon which such sudden floods debouch. The only 
warning to the victims may have been the constant threat of plant 
depletion on watersheds above them a portent only too seldom re- 
vealing its full meaning in advance. Without doubt the flood prob- 
lem is acute and is becoming of increasingly greater significance in 
all the range States. 

For the past 40 years floods, of a severity to which boulder-strewn 
fields and valleys bear evidence, have been increasing over the entire 
length and breadth of Utah. Between Ogden and Salt Lake City 
15 canyons in the Wasatch Mountain front have within the past 
few decades produced such floods all originating on depleted, pri- 
vately owned range lands representing a total of only a few hundred 
acres and but a small portion of each individual watershed. In 1923, 
and again in 1930, floods and mud-rock flows pouring forth from 
certain of these canyons exceeded anything which has occurred in 
that area for at least 20,000 years (10). Boulders weighing as 
much as 200 tons were carried into the valley, farm lands were 
ruined, homes and other improvements were destroyed, and lives 
were lost (fig. 66). In 1932 at least 27 important watersheds in the 
State flooded. An investigation of these areas by State and Fed- 
eral agencies revealed that this serious situation has developed 
largely since settlement and that depleted range lands are the chief 
source of flood waters. 



Several drainages in Colorado, tributary to the general area sur- 
rounding Denver, are highly susceptible to rapid run-off and peri- 
odically produce major floods. From a special examination of the 
watersheds, made in 1934 it was readily determined that, while the 
flood menace in this locality was already pronounced, still more 
serious flooding could be expected if depletion of vegetation con- 
tinued. There is little doubt that the Pueblo floods of 1921 were 
due in part to depleted watersheds. They swept the entire Arkan- 
sas River Valley from Florence 30 miles west of Pueblo to the 
State line, causing tremendous waste of property and heavy loss of 



Sweeping out of the overgrazed watersheds in Davis County, Utah, mud-rock flows, 
carrying boulders weighing as much as 200 tons, devastated 1,800 acres of the most 
valuable garden, orchard, and farm land in the State, wrecked homes and farm 
buildings, and blocked or washed out highways and railroads. Such catastrophes are 
common in varying degrees of severity throughout the depleted range areas of the 

Some of the most serious floods resulting from depletion of the 
plant cover of watersheds have occurred in California, and among 
these the Tehachapi flood of 1932 stands out as a glaring example 
of effect of misused range lands. In September 1932 the concentra- 
tion of water from a heavy rain storm near Tehachapi Pass un- 
leashed its fury on the valley lowlands and caused loss of life and 
property.' The 1934 floods, caused by destruction of vegetation by 
fire on the watersheds near Los Angeles, attracted Nation-wide 
attention because of the damage caused. Sacramento Valley ex- 
perienced a disastrous flood in 1928 as a result of rapid run-off from 
the exposed slopes of its catchment basins. These are examples of 
major floods. Other minor floods too numerous to mention, have 
occurred periodically over much of the interior basin and southern 
coastal region, building up a staggering total of losses. 


In contrast to the spectacular mountain floods oftentimes accom- 
panied by mud-rock flows, are the more common floods of silt-bear- 
ing water in the Southwest and Colorado Plateau. In these regions 
of more gentle gradients and sparsely-vegetated slopes, floods have 
always occurred, but historical evidence together with field investi- 
gation clearly indicate that they are yearly becoming more prevalent 
and more destructive. 

In any presentation of the western flood problem it cannot too 
strongly be stressed that the communities desolated, the individuals 
bankrupt and bereaved by these floods have in many instances paid 
in life and property for the privileges enjoyed by themselves or 
others in the free use of watershed range. The evidence of this is 
clear. In the Escalante River Valley in southern Utah, for example, 
the first devastating floods occurred approximately 15 years after 
the settlers began to crowd the ranges with their herds. Since that 
time annual floods have been almost the rule, and in the single year 
of 1932, 19 major floods raged through portions of this valley, in- 
undating agricultural land and tearing away sections of the fertile 
alluvial valley fill. In 1921, five drainages in western Colorado 
flooded during a storm that brought only 2.5 inches of precipitation 
over a 4-day period. The waters from one of the canyons washed out 
several miles of railroad track and those from another cut a new 
stream channel directly through the town of Lake City. Run-off 
from depleted range lands on the tributaries of the Virgin River in 
southern Utah swelled the river's flow sufficiently during the early 
spring of 1931 to take out bridges, inundate agricultural lands, and 
raise the flow of the Colorado River at Boulder Dam higher than had 
been anticipated for the whole of the Colorado River drainage. 

The agricultural lands of the San Juan and Paria River Valleys 
in Utah have similarly been inundated and eroded, resulting in the 
abandonment of settlements. Historical evidence shows that the 
first serious flood came approximately 15 years after settlement, and 
that from then on catastrophes appeared with increasing frequency. 

Further substantiation is given by Olmstead's (96) investigations 
in the Gila River Valley in Arizona where he found a remarkable 
difference between the destructive floods occurring during the first 
two decades of the present century and those of the early days. The 
earlier floods spread out over the countryside with relatively little 
destruction. The tearing out of great channels and depositing of 
sterile sands on fertile soil are entirely recent phenomena. 



To understand what erosion is doing to western watersheds today, 
it is essential to have clearly in mind what is meant by accelerated 
erosion, which followed misuse of land and forage, as distinguished 
from the normal erosion that has always been in operation. Ac- 
celerated erosion is a relatively rapid process, removing from the 
slopes and even flats soil that was ages in the making. Abnormal in 
action, it proceeds from man-made rather than natural causes. It is 
induced chiefly by the destruction of plant cover and the consequent 
disturbance of the natural balance so necessary to a stabilized soil 
surface. Accelerated erosion is of several types, the most important 


being sheet, gully, and trench erosion caused by water, and another 
form of sheet erosion caused by wind. Gully and sheet erosion are 
most pronounced on steep mountainous slopes, trench erosion in the 
low gradient valleys characteristic of the Southwest, and wind ero- 
sion on flat desert or plains country. The seriousness of accelerated 
erosion is often not recognized until the eroded soil and other debris 
is deposited destructively on valley floors and along stream channels. 


When vegetation that has bound and protected the soil and retarded run-off on the 
mountain slopes is destroyed, the run-off washes away the soil itself which will re- 
quire thousands of years to replace. Often a sterile rocky substratum is exposed, as in 
the above foreground. The vegetated islands of soil that remain as shown in the 
background of this view, will soon be eroded and gone unless the plant cover on the 
denuded slopes is restored. 

On the mountain slopes, under sheet and gully erosion, soil re- 
moval can proceed at a terrific rate. Following the depletion of 
vegetation, water from heavy rains flows rapidly over the surface, 
transporting fine soil material with it. By this process a sheet of 
the fertile top soil has been removed from millions of acres of range 
land. Where soil texture and topography abet this action, the entire 
soil cover may be removed (fig. 67) . In most situations, gullies also 
develop early and continue throughout the erosion cycle as the 
dominant process. In the early phases of gully formation, parallel 
stringers, often called "shoestring erosion", streak the eroding slopes 
and form a branched system of deep cuts and washes as they increase 
in size. 

Trench erosion or arroyo cutting is most common in the Colorado 
Plateau and Southwestern regions, where alluvial-filled valleys are 
being deeply cut with a labyrinth of vertical-walled channels. 
Many such trenches, however, have also cut through valleys in Call- 


fornia, Oregon, and elsewhere. Trench erosion arises usually from 
a break in the surface soils in which the run-off concentrates and 
channels rapidly through the valley flats. As the initial trench or 
arroyo advances by headward cutting, tributary trenches develop 
wherever lateral drainages are intersected and in turn grow into 
major cuts, each one excavating huge sections of the valley floor. 

Wind erosion tears away and lifts in air the finer soil particles 
from the inadequately protected surface, at the same time that 
coarser particles are swept along the ground and oftentimes heaped 
into dunes. In some instances what is known as "desert pavement", 
consisting of residual rock fragments on the surface of the ground, 
characterizes the advance stages of this process. 

Destruction caused by accelerated erosion on range lands, while 
costly in social and economic values everywhere, differs considerably 
in the different physiographic types in the western range areas. 
These types are, broadly, the mountain regions, the Colorado Plateau 
and the Southwest, the northern desert valleys, and the Great Plains. 


Erosion and soil wastage present one of their most serious problems 
on the steeper grazing lands. From the mountains of the Pacific 
Coast to the eastern slopes of the Rockies, the utility of many over- 
grazed watersheds has diminished appreciably through the process 
of erosion. Slopes once comparatively uniform and smooth are 
marred with sharp niche-like gullies cut to subsoil or sterile bed- 
rock. Mountain meadows have been drained and ruined following 
the development of gullies and channels in their deep mellow soil. 
Large areas have had part or all of the topsoil removed by sheet 
erosion less striking than gully or trench erosion, but none the 
less serious. The full meaning of complete removal of the topsoil 
by sheet erosion under the dry climatic conditions of the West 
becomes very evident when it is realized that since the recession of 
ancient Lake Bonne ville that occupied basins in the intermountain 
region 50,000 years ago, only 10 to 14 inches of humic soil has been 
formed on the most favorable sites of its old beaches and deltas. 

What this situation amounts to on mismanaged mountain range 
in Utah was brought out by a special investigation of a seriously 
depleted watershed area in Davis County. Here overgrazing and 
fire had so stripped off the plant coyer as to permit 18 to 36 inches 
of topsoil to be removed on approximately 21 percent of the area; 
6 to 18 inches on 22 percent; up to 6 inches on 39 percent; and on 
only 18 percent of the area was the soil undisturbed. Badly de- 
pleted portions are ripped and torn by gullies 3 to 4 feet deep. 
Stream channels in this area have recently been scoured almost to 
their heads and in their lower reaches have been cut as much as 
70 feet in depth and 200 or more feet wide. 

In Idaho and Oregon the slopes of many drainage basins of the 
Owyhee River are badly eroded and streams which formerly flowed 
between grassy banks are now seeping along through sandy washes 
or flowing through raw cuts with steep, sloughing sides. On foot- 
hill tributaries of the Snake River in this same general region both 
sheet and gully erosion are also very evident. In California severe 



gully and sheet erosion characterizes a large area of overgrazed land 
in coast drainage from Ventura County southward, and in the San 
Joaquin and Sacramento River basins. In other parts of this State 
erosion is present in varying degrees of seriousness, and is particu- 
larly evident on mountain meadows subject to concentrated grazing. 


Accelerated erosion on the Colorado Plateau and in the South- 
west is in general similar to that in mountainous areas but distinc- 
tive in detail. In the depleted intermediate and lower elevational 
zones in these regions channeling and arroyo cutting of alluvium- 
filled valleys is virtually eating the heart out of the best grazing and 
agricultural lands (fig. 68). On depleted mesa lands the topsoil 


This view of upper Kanab Creek, Utah, illustrates the channel-cutting resulting from 
range depletion. Recent erosion has channeled thousands of tons of soil out of the 
valley floors. Trenches 20 to 100 feet deep and 200 to 500 feet wide are common 
where, prior to settlement, only shallow streams or drainage depressions existed. In 
this way, large tracts of fertile and productive land in the Southwest have been ruined. 

has been blown or washed away in sheets, leaving accumulations of 
loose sand, gravel, and rock, or pedestal-like remnants of soil. In 
the higher elevational zones that have not escaped range deteriora- 
tion, meadow lands are deeply channeled and drained of their former 
source of natural subirrigation. 

The general acceleration of erosion on the Colorado River drainage 
basin north of the Grand Canyon was determined by a survey made 
in 1932 and 1933. Of 115 drainages examined upon which unregu- 
lated grazing had been permitted, 111 were eroding at a rate con- 
siderably more rapid than normal. In Wyoming and northern Utah 
raw gullies were frequent and active stream-bed channeling not un- 
common. In Colorado and southern Utah the most serious type 
of erosion was the trenching or channeling of the loose, fertile soil 


deposits of the productive valleys, of which Kanab Creek, Johnson 
Valley, and the Virgin and San Juan Rivers in southern Utah are 

Kanab Creek formerly flowed over the floor of a broad, fertile, 
well-vegetated valley. In the relatively brief period since range 
livestock were first introduced by the Mormon pioneers, its whole 
character has changed and it is now confined to a miniature "Grand 
Canyon" with a channel 30 to 100 feet deep and 200 or more feet 
wide. Johnson Valley, now called Johnson Wash because of the 
trenching of the previously aggraded valley floor, is cut with a many- 
branched arroyo which reaches a depth of 40 feet and a width of 
more than 300 feet, from which thousands of tons of soil have recently 
been removed. In the lower valley of the Virgin River heavy silt 
deposits swept by accelerated erosion from its upper reaches are so 
clogging the stream flow as to send it meandering over the valley 
floor, where it is removing additional surface soil and inundating 
agricultural lands. 

In the Southwest abnormal erosion has caused some areas to 
resemble natural badlands. Portions of the Rio Puerco and Rio 
Salado Valleys in New Mexico, and the San Simon and San Pedro 
Valleys in Arizona have been carved with deep channels which 
divide the valley floor into innumerable isolated segments. In the 
valley of the Rio Puerco, where only small channels existed prior to 
1885, destructive erosion has cut trenches 200 to 500 feet wide in the 
fertile soil of its floor. 

A survey of the upper Rio Grande drainage in New Mexico above 
Elephant Butte Dam found accelerated erosion within all of nine 
vegetative types. Within this area only 25 percent of the water- 
shed is in fair to good condition, 35 percent is characterized by 
advanced erosion, and 40 percent by excessive erosion. The water- 
sheds of the Rio Grande tributaries below Embudo, N. Mex., have 
a badly depleted cover of range vegetation and discharge enormous 
quantities of silt and floodwater into the main channel. This silt, 
carried down and deposited in the low -gradient channel of the Middle 
Valley, has so built up the channel as to slow down the flow 
of the river, causing the water-logging of 80,000 acres of formerly 
productive farm land. 

Other studies by the Southwestern Forest and Range Experiment 
Station, on the Salt River watershed in Arizona, show that an average 
of 432 cubic feet per acre of topsoil and soil-forming materials is 
lost annually from typical deteriorated brush ranges. 

On mesa areas, such as those on the Navajo Indian Reservation, 
great sheets of surface soil from the grassland have been blown 
or washed away as a direct result oi) grazing abuse, and arroyos 
30 to 50 feet wide and 10 to 20 feet deep, with tributary gullies 
8 feet wide and 5 feet deep, are common where originally only shal- 
low streambeds and depressions were present. 

The higher plateau grazing areas which have been used with no 
regard to watershed values have been severely channeled. The lower 
Rio Jemez drainage is a typical example. Here arroyos have been 
cut through at least 25 percent of the meadows, and 40 to 50 percent 
more are in the process of cutting. 



The erosion picture presented by northern desert valley lands, 
chiefly of the Great Basin region in Nevada and Utah, is distinctive. 
In these valleys, although the heavy rainstorms of summer are often 
of sufficient intensity to cause trouble, the chief erosive agent is wind. 
Over large areas much of the topsoil has been blown away, and 
clumps of grass and shrubs, whose roots hold small hummocks of 
soil together, mark the scattered spots where overgrazing has failed 
to kill the plant cover. New sand dunes forming in these valleys 
present a serious threat. One particularly badly overgrazed area 
near Grantsville, Utah, has been the source of severe dust storms 
which have blanketed Salt Lake City and Ogden. "Blow-out" holes, 
12 feet deep and 4 to 6 acres in extent, have been formed and the 
surface soil has been stripped or shifted over an area of more than 
35,000 acres. 37 

The lowland areas of the Columbia River Basin in Idaho, Oregon, 
and Washington are suffering also from wind erosion, and sand 
dunes have formed in many localities. As some of these lands re- 
ceive more precipitation than do the Utah and Nevada lowlands, 
they are more generally eroded by water. 


The erosion on range lands of the Great Plains contributes a con- 
siderable portion of the great silt load carried by the Missouri, 
Platte, Arkansas, Red, and other rivers, with their tributaries. Even 
in the Badlands of Montana and the Dakotas, plant-cover depletion 
is accelerating erosion greatly beyond its normal rapid rate. Gully 
erosion is less widespread and less serious, however, than sheet ero- 
sion because of soil, topographic, and climatic conditions. 

Dust storms, as a manifestation of sheet erosion, have become in- 
creasingly more frequent and serious in the Plains region. Thou- 
sands of acres of true grazing land from the Dakotas south to Texas, 
upon which the sod had been broken for agricultural purposes, are 
the main source of these storms. Areas suffering merely from over- 
grazing have contributed somewhat toward the dust supply, but 
their role is overshadowed by the dust resulting from the injudicious 
attempt to cultivate land unfit for that purpose. Several localities, 
generally smaller than the famous "dust bowl" of eastern Colorado 
and western Kansas, are devastated and have in turn ruined many 
acres of adjacent lands. 

The examples of erosion and flood damage specifically cited might 
be multiplied indefinitely. However, the illustrations presented 
show that the curse of floods and* erosion that has developed over 
the West in the last half century is a serious and rapidly increasing 
menace. Floods of accelerating frequency and severity, and slopes 
and valleys riddled with gullies and chasms bear convincing testi- 
mony to man's misuse of the range resources. 

87 According to unpublished data of the Soil Conservation Service prepared by G. S. 
Quate and H. J. Helm in 1935. 



That the present serious problem of floods and erosion on the 
western watersheds is the result of past misuse of range lands is 
substantiated by extensive evidence of the part played by various 
contributing factors. Of these the most prominent are the physical 
factors of climate, soil, and topography and the biological factors 
of vegetation and organic matter in and on the soil. 


Climate exerts its influence directly on erosion and floods through 
the amount, kind, and intensity of precipitation and indirectly 
through its effect on vegetation and soil. Even this direct effect has 
many ramifications, however, when it is considered that although 
the West is essentially arid, and some areas in the lower deserts 
receive as little as 3 to 4 inches of rainfall annually, other areas 
in the higher mountains receive as much as 60 inches. The kind 
and intensity of precipitation vary greatly also. At the lower ele- 
vations precipitation falls largely as rain, and in many places in 
storms of sufficiently great intensity to result in rapid accumulations 
of water having great erosive force. Because of the naturally scant 
protective cover of vegetation in the arid and semiarid portions, 
rains relatively light in character as compared to those in more 
humid areas may run off so readily and develop into such violent 
floods that they are classed as torrential. In the mountain areas a 
large proportion of the annual fall comes as snow, which is released 
as free water only during the spring and early summer. Rains that 
fall on steep mountain slopes may be intense, greatly increasing 
the danger of erosion on any soil not bound in place or otherwise 
inadequately protected by plants ; or they may be moderate, causing 
severe erosion only where plant depletion is most serious and topog- 
raphy steepest. 

Hard rains falling on denuded land, whether in the desert regions 
or in the mountains, result in rapid accumulations of water that 
inevitably cause the gullying of slopes and trenching of valleys. 
If there are depleted range areas in the West today on which erosion 
is only slight or moderate, it is principally because rainfall there 
is uniformly low in intensity, slope is negligible, or the soil is 
unusually porous. 

The indirect relation of climate to accelerated erosion and floods 
is exerted through the effect of drought, high temperature, wind, 
and high rates of evaporation on vegetation and soil. Undoubtedly 
drought, particularly protracted, drought, has contributed greatly 
to the decline of the watershed value of certain areas by killing on 
some of the plants or limiting their growth and reducing their 
density. The death or diminished growth of the plant means, in 
turn, a general depletion of the plant cover and less physical pro- 
tection to the soil. During droughts, the physical properties of the 
soil are modified by excessive drying, its power of cohesion is les- 
sened, and it becomes more susceptible to the forces of wind and 
water. The stage is thus set for destructive erosion. 


High temperatures and winds, causing excessive evaporation, act 
on the plants and soil in exactly the same manner as drought. 
Regardless of how much precipitation occurs, it is of no value as 
a source of water for plants or for stream flow if it evaporates 
almost as rapidly as it falls. These various forms of the action 
of climate on the soil and vegetation mantle are serious enough when 
soil and topography also favor erosion and flooding, but their effects 
are most pronounced when the plant cover has been depleted by 
overgrazing and fire. 


The inherent nature of the soil plays an important role in de- 
termining the rate of erosion and the percent of the total precipi- 
tation which runs off the surface of any area. Some soils, deficient 
in plant nutrients, are capable of supporting only a sparse cover 
of vegetation which influences their absorptive powers but little and 
affords them a minimum of physical protection against erosion. 
The relative erosibility of different soils is greatly influenced by such 
physical properties as their imperviousness to water and their water- 
holding capacity. The Mancos shales of certain parts of the West, 
for example, produce soils that are highly impervious, permitting 
rapid run-off of a large part of the precipitation and a consequent 
rapid natural erosion. In contrast, soils from the Wasatch con- 
glomerate naturally absorb water readily, permit less run-off, and 
consequently are not easily eroded. All soils, however, regardless 
of their inherent nature and the parent rock from which they 
are derived, absorb precipitation most readily and are subject 
to a minimum of erosion when they are well clothed with vegetation. 


Topography of a watershed is a significant factor in determining 
the extent of erosion and character of run-off. Steepness of slope 
naturally influences velocity of run-off; and since the transporting 
power of water increases as the fourth to sixth power of its velocity, 
it is evident that soil movement would be greater on steeper slopes, 
other factors being equal. This in turn increases its cutting power. 
Increased velocity means also that the flowing water passes over the 
surface more rapidly, thus allowing less time for absorption and 
penetration. Gravity creep of certain soils on steep slopes, inde- 
pendent of the influence of water, is noticeable in some instances, 
indicating that the natural balance which is so necessary to soil 
stability hangs very precariously. 

The topographic influence expresses itself also in its modification 
of the action of general and local climate. Rugged, broken country 
is less likely to suffer wind erosion than flat or rolling areas where 
winds can be generated and blow unobstructed with great force. 
The action of high temperatures and evaporation vary with exposure 
to the sun's rays, as is evident in the contrast between plant cover 
and soil mantle on the north and south slopes of canyons and 


Nearly all the effects of topography, however, as in the case of 
climate or soil, are greatly modified by the plant growth. Under any 
but extreme conditions of climate, soil, and topography this vegeta- 
tion mantle is the critical factor of the watershed. Even on slopes 
steeper than the angle of repose, soils are built up under it. Fur- 
thermore, vegetation is the one factor that man can control. Thus 
the major interest in analyzing the causes of accelerated run-off and 
erosion centers on the part played by the plant cover. 


On the nonforested arid and semiarid range lands of the West 
herbaceous and shrubby plants form the vegetation which furnishes 
protection to the watersheds. Even on forest lands, and especially 
those open forest types which are suitable for grazing, the herbace- 
ous and shrubby plant growth materially supplements the value of 
the timber growth and its litter in affording adequate watershed 
protection. This is especially true in the open orchard-like stands 
of the pinon- juniper type, where only a small proportion of the 
soil is directly protected by tree growth. As in forests (#, 86), 
it is not the areal growth alone which is of value. The total plant 
cover, the root system, the litter, and the humic horizon of the 
upper layers of the soil composed chiefly of decaying organic mat- 
ter, all make up the range cover of value in the protection of water- 
sheds. In the main, the vegetation present under virgin conditions 
represents the type developed by natural forces best adapted to the 
specific climatic, soil, and other conditions of the particular site. 

It has been rather generally recognized for a number of years 
that the protective cover on range lands has a marked effect in con- 
trolling soil erosion and abnormal run-off. Where overgrazing and 
fire have been rampant, serious consequences were observed; and 
where some degree of protection has been afforded, favorable water- 
shed conditions have prevailed. Restoration of the plant cover on 
denuded areas has indicated also its beneficial effect. For example, 
Manti canyon in Utah (108), which was overgrazed badly begin- 
ning in the late 70's, produced a number of serious floods between 
1888 and 1902. In 1903 this area was included within the Manti 
National Forest and, after 5 years of complete protection followed 
by regulated grazing, the range cover has been greatly improved, 
accelerated erosion halted, and all flooding of any consequence 

The general outcome of the many observations on the relation of 
range cover to conservation of the watershed resource was, how- 
ever, one of confusion, as shown by the differences in concepts held 
by some geologists, engineers, ecologists, and foresters. It became 
apparent that the role of vegetation had to be ascertained quantita- 
tively by detailed investigation. Research on this subject was ac- 
cordingly undertaken and, though a vast amount of detailed work 
still remains to be done, certain general concepts have already been 
developed and proved. 




The first of these investigations (51) of any consequence on west- 
ern range land was instituted by the Forest Service on the Wasatch 
Plateau, near Ephraim, Utah, in 1912, where a study was made of 
the run-off and erosion from two grazing areas of about 10 acres 
each, fairly similar except for the cover of vegetation. Area A 
had an original plant density of 16 percent and Area B a density 
of 40 percent. Both areas were grazed and for the 6 years, 1915 to 
1920, the cover was maintained at the original densities. During 
the period 1921 to 1923 Area A was allowed to revegetate until its 
density approximately equaled that of Area B. From 1924 to 1929 
both areas were grazed and maintained at equal densities. The 
results from summer rains are given in table 55. 

TABLE 55. The influence of vegetation change on run-off percent and sediment 
removed during summer precipitation period from two test areas on the 
Wasatch Plateau 

Values per acre for watershed A 

Values per acre for watershed 

A/B ratios 

Plant density 

run-off 1 



run-off a 


percent > 











16 to 40... 


1 Plant density as here used is the percentage of total soil that is covered by the total spread of the plan? 
1 Percentages are based on effective precipitation. 

With area A in a depleted condition the run-off percent and sedi- 
ment removed were approximately 4.1 and 5.4 times that from area 
B. As the plant cover was gradually restored on the former, these 
differences diminished until the ratios for run-off percent and sedi- 
ment were only 2.9 and 2.8. Finally, when the densities of the plant 
cover were made comparable, the run-off percent from the two areas 
was practically the same, and the excess of silt removed from A 
was reduced from 109.1 to 11.5 cubic feet. 

This reduction of silt removed from area A following revegeta- 
tion has far greater significance than merely the reduction of soil 
movement, because of its indirect effect on the future rate of ab- 
sorption and percolation of the soil. This is shown by studies (86) 
conducted by the California Forest and Range Experiment Station, 
in which slightly less than 2 percent of sediment was introduced into 
clear water and allowed to percolate through a soil surface. It was 
found that the rate of percolation of this muddy water amounted to 
a reduction of 90 percent within 6 hours over the percolation rate 
for clear water. The sealing of soil pores by sedimentation not only 
immediately reduced the speed of percolation but this change re- 
mained permanent since the subsequent use of clear water did not 
restore the original percolation rate. This indicates clearly that 


silt-laden water from eroding land tends to increase run-off by 
decreasing absorption on all areas over which it passes. 

In southern California, where water is extremely valuable, it is 
desirable to save as much of the streamflow from mountain canyons 
as possible. The construction of storage basins is costly and there 
is a great dearth of suitable sites. A common practice, therefore, is 
to divert the clear water emerging from such canyons over the gravel 
beds at their mouths. The water is later pumped from the natural 
underground storage basins for domestic use and irrigation. If, 
however, the streamflow is muddy the gravels are quickly sealed 
by the silt and the water runs off to the ocean, resulting in a scarcity 
of the underground supply. It is vital, therefore, to prevent ero- 
sion of the watersheds which would produce muddy streamflow. 


Studies conducted on the Boise River watershed in Idaho, with 
the aid of a portable apparatus simulating natural rainfall, have 
demonstrated the value of different plant types in preventing ero- 
sion and conserving water on the granitic soils of that region. The 
effects of varying intensities of rainfall, degree of slope, and dis- 
turbance of soil were determined on comparable plots within four 
plant types ranging from the annual weed, which represents the 
most depleted type, to the bunchgrass, the most valuable. Under 
all conditions of the experiment the average percentage of rainfall 
which ran off and the amount of material eroded for the different 
types is as shown in figure 69. 

The bunchgrass type, which has the greatest forage value of any 
local range type, and to which most grazing land in this area will 
ultimately revert if unabused, yielded very little run-off and silt. 
The downy chess and needlegrass-lupine types, which have suc- 
ceeded the bunchgrass on overgrazed ranges at the lower and higher 
elevations, respectively, are distinctly less effective watershed covers. 
The manner in which these two types contribute to rapid run-off and 
erosion is shown by the fact that, on the average, 25.5 percent of the 
precipitation on the downy-chess cover and 47.6 percent on the 
needlegrass-lupine cover were unabsorbed. Further, as this water 
ran off it carried the equivalent of 2,017 and 4,783 pounds of soil 
per acre from the respective types. The annual-weed type affords 
far less protection than any of the others, permitting a 60.8 percent 
run-off which transported an equivalent of 15,280 pounds of soil 
per acre. 

The characteristic root systems of the plants in the various types 
studied, as sketched in figure 69, indicate that for this investigation 
a dense mat of fine roots near the surface of the soil served best 
in protecting the soil from accelerated erosion and in obtaining 
maximum absorption. 

The contribution of percent of slope, disturbed soil, and intensity 
of rainfall to these results is shown in table 56, which is a further 



break-down of figure 69. A change in percent of slope was mate- 
rially noticeable in modifying run-off in the downy chess type only, 
where excessive loss of water occurred on slopes greater than 30 
percent. The unexpected decrease in the run-off from the steeper 
slope in the needlegr ass-lupine type is attributed to the coarser tex- 
ture of the soil on these slopes. Erosion was accelerated, however, 
by steeper slopes in every type except the bunchgrass. Disturbed 
soil as compared to undisturbed gave much the same effect as in- 
creased percent of slope. In this case decreased run-off following 
disturbance of the soil in the needlegrass-lupine type is due to the 
increase of absorption caused by loosening of the surface. High 
rainfall intensity accelerated both run-off and erosion from all types 
except the bunchgrass, which continued to afford suitable protection 
to the soil even when the intensity of the rainfall was doubled. 




Run- off 

Eroded material 


Run-off and erosion from rainfall are negligible where the bunchgrasses predominate 
the highly palatable virgin-range cover characteristic of south-central Idaho. Both 
run-off and erosion are very pronounced where other plants have succeeded bunch- 
grass because of overgrazing. The greatest percent of run-off and the largest amount 
or eroded material come from annual weed cover a plant cover which is an in- 
fallible expression of over utilization. A many-branched, fibrous root system is an 
important factor in retarding soil removal and aiding absorption. 



TABLE 56. Run-off and amount of erosion (induced by artificial storms of 1.80 
inches on four range types on the Boise River watershed) as influenced by 
steepness of slope, conditon of soil, and rate of rainfall 

Cover type 

Run-off 1 

Average * 



Rainfall > 

30 per- 

40 per- 














Downy chess . . 


Annual weeds . 

Average ' 







Cover type 


Average * 




30 per- 

40 per- 







25, 770 


18, 554 


12, 976 





Downy chess . 


Annual weeds 

Average ' 







i Percent of rainfall applied. 

1 Pounds per acre. 

Low =0.03 inches per minute for 60 minutes. High =0.06 inches per minute for 30 minutes. 

Each figure represents the average of tests on 12 5-milacre plots. 

* Artificial disturbance of surface to simulate trampling by livestock. 

Each figure represents the average of tests on 24 5-milacre plots. 

The results of this study show vividly the relation of the decline 
of plant cover and grazing values to the decline of watershed values. 
It is observed throughout, as has been demonstrated in other sections 
of this report, that the bunchgrass type, which because of its high 
forage value suffers most severely on unmanaged ranges, is the 
most effective in stabilizing run-off and erosion. The other three 
types, which are actual invaders of depleted bunchgrass land, de- 
cline in watershed protection value approximately as they decline 
in forage value ; and when the annual weed stage is reached the in- 
fallible expression of severe overgrazing both forage and watershed 
values have been reduced to the lowest point attainable under a plant 



That vegetation has a definite and very important part in con- 
serving precipitation on watersheds was substantiated by further 
studies in the same general area. Measurements were taken of the 
rate of absorption and percolation of surface water on paired plots, 
each 1 foot square. One of the pair supported a single herbaceous 
plant and the other was bare soil occurring between plants. Twenty- 
three pairs were compared for plants typical of well-managed ranges 



and 16 pairs for plants common on depleted ranges. The results are 
shown in figure TO. That plots supporting desirable forage plants 
absorb water more rapidly than contiguous bare plots or even than 
plots supporting the less desirable plants, is readily understandable, 
It is interesting to note, however, that bare-soil spots on well- 
managed range were more absorbent than the bare places on depleted 
range, owing to the better soil conditions induced by the surround- 
ing vegetation and its wider spreading root systems. Equal quan- 
tities of water applied on these plots penetrated approximately 5 
inches on vegetated plots on managed range as compared to 
inches on vegetated plots on depleted range. 








Where plants are present, the rate of absorption of water by the soil is materially in- 
creased over that on bare soil. It is significant also that bare soil on well-managed 
range land absorbs water more rapidly than similar spots on overgrazed range. The 
data shown here are taken from averages obtained on plots on the Boise River water- 
shed. Absorption under plant cover on well-managed range was at the rate of 0.44 
inches per hour. 

In every case the course of percolation appeared to follow plant 
roots, demonstrating the superiority of extensive and fibrous roots, 
characteristic of the perennial plants found on well-managed ranges, 
over the more poorly developed root systems of plants typical of 
depleted cover. 

The necessity of maintaining an unbroken range cover, as dem- 
onstrated on tne Boise River watershed, was further substantiated 
by a general survey of the area made by the Forest Service. This 
survey brought out the necessity for a plant-cover density of at least 
30 percent to avoid erosion, since if grazing depletes the cover below 
that point, run-off and erosion will be accelerated and the utility of 
the watershed will be reduced. 

64946 36 22 



A distinct correlation between the extent of range depletion and 
degree of erosion was revealed in an investigation of range cover 
and accelerated erosion on the upper Rio Grande watershed by the 
Southwestern Forest and Range Experiment Station, in which ero- 
sion was classified as moderate, advanced, and excessive. It was 
founoll that range lands supporting a vegetation cover which had 
deteriorated 7 to 40 percent in reference to virgin conditions was 
eroding moderately; lands with a cover depleted 29 to 57 percent 
were in an advanced state of erosion; and where the cover had 
deteriorated 52 to 74 percent lands were eroding excessively. 

An even more definite correlation between soil erosion and grass 
cover was brought out in further studies by the Forest Service in 
the Southwest. Here the annual run-off and soil erosion was meas- 
ured from a grass range cover representing three degrees of deple- 
tion on a 25-percent slope. With the range cover approximately 
25 percent depleted, 22 percent of the annual precipitation was sur- 
face run-off and the equivalent of 109 cubic feet of soil per acre was 
eroded. With the cover approximately 50 and 75 percent depleted^ 
28 and 32 percent of the annual precipitation was surface run-on 
and equivalents of 174 and 240 cubic feet of soil per acre were 

Further emphasis on the protection afforded the soil by a plant 
cover is given in studies by F. L. Duley and M. F. Miller (44) on 
agricultural land in Missouri. In this case, among other things, a 
comparison was made between the run-off and erosion from barren 
and sod-covered soil on slopes averaging about 3.7 percent over a 
period of 6 years. Run-off from the sod-covered soil was equiva- 
lent to 11.6 percent of the total rainfall, while run-off from the 
barren soil was more than four times as much or 48.9 percent. 
One hundred and twenty-three times as much soil was eroded from 
the barren as from the sod-covered soil. 


Geologic evidence obtained on the Davis County, Utah (10) and 
on certain Colorado River watersheds (9) has shown that the dev- 
astation of plant cover has been the major cause of accelerated 
erosion and uncontrolled run-off on these areas. Recent channel 
cutting and erosion has definitely exceeded any which has taken 
place for the last 20,000 years in Davis County, illustrating the 
unprecedented nature of the recent activity, at least in modern 
geologic times. Since the deterioration of plant cover is the only 
marked change in the factors effecting erosion and stream flow which 
occurred since settlement, it is logical to ascribe the activity to that 
source. On the Colorado River geologic evidence of the influence 
of plant cover was determined by investigating the gradational 
process of erosion on natural barren areas in which no acceleration 
was found. At the same time, on the surrounding localities once 
stabilized by a plant cover, erosion was accelerating. The deduction 
was clear that vegetative depletion was the major factor causing 
the present channeling and gullying on the formerly productive 
lands in this drainage. 




Depletion of vegetation by fire is of interest, since the results in 
erosion and floods are similar to those from persistent overgrazing. 
The La Crescenta flood in California is a dramatic illustration. 
On New Year's Day, 1934, a general rain fell over the southern 
California foothills including a 5,000 acre area that had been 
severely burned 2 months previously. As presented in table 57, 
the records of the California Forest and Range Experiment Sta- 
tion show that the burned Verdugo and Pickens drainages received 
approximately the same rainfall as the unburned areas to which 
they are compared and yet the erosion and run-off on them was 
tremendously greater. The most striking example was Pickens 
Canyon, where run-off was increased fortyfold and erosion approxi- 
mately one thousandfold. 

TABLE 57. Erosion and run-off from the La Crescenta flood area and on 
comparable unfourned slopes 




Watershed affected 

Peak run- 

Eroded ma- 



Burned Verdugo 





Cubic feet 
per <te^ ond 

Cubic yards 
per square 
50, 000 

Unburned San Dimas 

Burned Pickens 


Unburned Fern and Bell -.. 


A comparison of the effects of burning litter from small plots 
under controlled conditions was made under varying intensities of 
rainfall on typical California soils. The results substantiate other 
experiments in the destruction of organic cover in that superficial 
run-off was 3 to 16 times as great from bared as from litter-covered 
soil and erosion was about 1,200 times as great. 


The results reported above are of great importance on all range 
lands throughout the West which deliver water for irrigation, power, 
or domestic use. Most of the usable stream flow comes from the 
melting of snow and from the gradual delivery from springs and 
seeps of snow water absorbed by the soil and broken-rock blanket 
of the watersheds. The more porous the soil cover the more per- 
colation there is and the greater the value of this underground 
supply. It is the cover of vegetation, its litter, and related values 
which maintain maximum percolation. With removal of the vege- 
tation the soil pores are quickly sealed and percolation is greatly 
reduced, as previously explained. Studies on the Wasatch Pla- 
teau in Utah have shown that the soil is saturated in the spring 
from having absorbed its maximum capacity. Spring surface run- 
off of melting snow was found to be practically unaffected by dif- 
ferences in the vegetation cover. On the experimental areas this 
spring run-off amounted to about 95 percent of the yearly water 
delivery by surface run-off. 


The stream flow from the melting snow and underground water 
supply is generally clear, except as it may pick up sediment which- 
had previously accumulated in the stream channel or as it may cut 
the sides of eroding channels. 

On the other hand, in most of the range area summer rains furnish 
little of the yearly usable stream flow, yet they are the ones which 
cause most of the destructive floods. The soil eroded from slopes 
by summer rains is usually deposited in stream channels to clog them 
and to be carried further downstream by subsequent floods or high- 
water stages. 

Restoration of the range cover on watersheds will result in a mate- 
rial reduction in surface run-off from summer rains and therefore 
a slight reduction in total yearly surface run-off, but this will be far 
more than offset by the control of erosion and flash floods with all 
of the destruction that they imply. 

Notwithstanding, attempts are occasionally made to justify such 
great increases in summer rainfall run-off from depleted areas as 
have been shown in the studies cited. The theory is advanced that 
denuded watersheds yield a greater volume of stream flow than 
watersheds clothed with water-using vegetation, and, therefore, that 
destruction of the plant cover is no loss. The fallacy in such a 
theory is apparent when the test of common sense is applied. If 
true, then the ideal water-yielding watershed would approximate 
the water-shedding ability of a tin roof. What water fell on its 
nonabsorbent surface would immediately and completely run off; 
after the storm had passed, its slopes and gutters would be even drier 
than the stream beds fed by a denuded mountainside. But there i& 
one great difference one particular in which the watershed can 
never attain the ideal "tin-roof" condition. Assume that to overcome 
the undesirability of loss of rain water from the roof a barrel is 
placed beneath the eaves, just as a storage reservoir may be built 
in a canyon. One would say that it is only necessary to find a big 
enough barrel or to build a "big enough reservoir to catch and hold 
all the water that falls. But here the "tin-roof" analogy breaks 
down, for the tin roof does not erode. How long would the effective 
life of the barrel be if each storm brought down from the roof great 
quantities of silt, mud, and debris such as is inevitably produced 
from a devegetated watershed? The barrel is soon filled and the 
precious moisture pours over its sides and is lost. 

But, argues the theorist, much of this run-off will soak into the 
soil and be conserved in that way an argument that overlooks the 
tests already cited, in which it has been shown how naturally porous 
and water-absorbing soil surfaces are clogged and rendered imper- 
vious by the fine silt washed over them. No experiments have as 
yet given any indication that the water loss represented by water 
use, transpiration, and evaporation by and from the plant cover of a 
mountain slope is at all comparable with the water loss and soil 
wastage from that same slope devegetated. 

The only safe procedure is to maintain as effective a plant cover 
as possible on all important watersheds. Further research is re- 
quired to determine the degree to which cover may be modified and 
still function satisfactorily in retarded run-off, in soil building and 
binding, in percolation of water, and in other ways to control erosion 
and stream flow. 




Ownership or control of range-land watersheds has been a major 
factor contributing to their present impaired watershed utility. This 
relationship is practically identical with that shown in a prevous 
chapter between the status of land tenure and plant depletion. The 
situation on the five general classes of ownership, based on the best 
information available from field surveys and published and unpub- 
lished records of the Department of Agriculture, is presented in 
table 58. 

TABLE 58. The watershed situation on western range lands 

[In thousands of acres] 

'Ownership class 

Principal water- 
yielding areas 

. Areas of minor water yield 


little if 
any silt 

Silting streams * 

Silting streams * 

Not silting streams s 







or no 

'National forests 

61, 948 
5, 335 
4, 551 
45, 617 

3, 572 

13, 671 
12, 937 

16, 128 
35, 867 
96, 155 

20, 670 
14, 581 
77, 682 

36, 823 

46, 825 
10, 248 
56, 514 


87, 954 
48, 391 
152, 005 
65, 516 
375, 547 

Indian lands 

Public domain, etc. 4 . 

State, county, municipal. _. 


23, 372 


171, 052 

121, 145 

75, 261 

124, 760 


122, 978 




54, 444 

729, 413 

1 Range portion of watershed area furnishing 85 percent of water of major streams. 
1 Area contributing an appreciable amount of silt to streams. 
* Area eroding, more or less, but not contributing appreciably to silting of streams. 
4 Includes grazing districts, public domain, and other Federal. 

Management of the large acreage of privately owned range lands 
-aimed primarily at the maximum utilization of forage has little 
regard, except in a few notable cases, for sustained production and 
for the watershed values on which nongrazing interests depend. 
The production of maximum numbers of steers and lambs is domi- 
nant throughout and water yield and erosion control only secondary, 
if considered at all. The average depletion in grazing value of about 
51 percent on private lands indicates, at least in part, why 145 
million acres of the private land area is severely eroded and 160 
million acres is materially eroded; also why approximately 195 
million acres is contributing appreciably to the silting of streams. 
These conditions indicate the seriousness of the watershed situation 
on private lands. 

Unregulated and highly competitive grazing on public domain, 
part of which is now being placed under administration as grazing 
districts, has resulted in practically universal depletion both of the 
usable forage and the watershed values of these lands. Some other 
Federal reservations are leased without regard for conservation of 
the plant cover. Accordingly, there can be little surprise in the fact 
that approximately 98 percent of these lands as a group is eroding 
-more or less seriously and about 67 million acres are contributing 


appreciable quantities of silt to major streams, even though a large 
part occurs in the Great Basin, which does not drain into major 

Unregulated grazing in past years on most Indian lands has had 
the same effect. The extreme situation on the Navajo Reservation 
and several smaller reservations on the Rio Grande watershed in the 
Southwest accounts, in large part, for the high percentage of severely 
eroding area. 

Rental and leasing of most State-owned grazing lands to private 
individuals have included no administrative supervision of the graz- 
ing, and this has meant that no attention whatsoever has been paid 
the preservation of watershed values, except as dictated by the self- 
interest of the lessee in preservation of the cover for range use. 

Range lands on the national forests, where land use has been under 
administration with a watershed-protection objective, present a 
vastly different picture. This is also true of some municipally 
owned land, representing the water supplies of cities that do not 
depend on sources within the national forests. In these cases the 
general land-management policies have been influenced largely by 
public welfare. The watershed value of grazing land has been rec- 
ognized and coordinated with grazing and other uses. The result 
has been that deterioration of the plant cover from overgrazing and 
fire has been greatly reduced, efforts have been made to restore the 
cover where depleted, and the yield of usable water and the soil con- 
ditions in general are superior to those under any other land tenure. 
Misused grazing land which has come under the administration of 
the Forest Service from time to time has for the most part been 
rehabilitated or started that way, instead of exploited further, with 
the result that the present range cover on the national forests is on 
an average depleted no more than 30 percent and only about 6.7 
million acres are still eroding severely. These favorable results, no 
less than the dire results depicted on unmanaged lands, dispel any 
doubt that the same correlation which exists between ownership and 
depletion exists also between ownership and destruction of watershed 
resources, and for the same reason. 



The immediate effects of accelerated run-off and erosion from 
unmanaged range lands are very serious, but they- are only one 
chapter in the whole story. The economic and social outlook for 
the entire western United States is being threatened by the conse- 
quences of these combined destructive agencies. If this seems too 
bold an assertion, it is only necessary to turn to other countries and 
other times to find ample substantiation. Semple (1%4), supported 
by such other eminent authorities as Sir Napier Shaw and J. Hann, 
has ascribed the decline and fall of ancient civilizations to misuse 
of land and the resulting erosion which cut away the productive top 
soil of hills and fields, leaving in its place barren subsoil or sterile 
deposits of sand and rock. Homes and lives were, under such cir- 
cumstances, destroyed by floods, famine followed devastation of 
agricultural land or loss of irrigation water and improvements, and 
the inhabitants of established communities were turned into roving 


tribes because they could no longer sustain themselves at home. 
Syria, Palestine, and other Mediterranean countries were the chief 
sufferers because of climatic and physiographic features. China, 
as another example, still suffers greatly at irregular but frequent 
intervals from inundations that take a terrific toll in the great 
Yellow Biver Valley and similar areas. The disconcerting history 
of the water and watershed resources of old-world countries typi- 
fies what is now happening on a limited scale in the western United 
States and what will happen on a far greater scale if the natural 
resources upon which civilization is fundamentally built are not 

Forage and water produced from the virgin range land were two 
of the most important resources which enabled the pioneers to build 
up the present civilization of the West as a monument to the hard- 
ships which they endured. The natural vegetation of the range 
furnished a source of feed upon which a great livestock industry 
was established. The run-off from the grass-covered hills and moun- 
tains contributed much of the water that made the settlement of 
cities and development of intensive farming and industry possible. 
Storage and diversion dams, ditches, and canals for irrigation 
projects were planned and built. Municipal water systems with 
dams and pipe lines brought water from mountain springs and 
streams to urban homes. Dams, turbines, and electric transmission 
lines harnessed water power and conveyed it to where it could be 
put to its greatest use. 

With these industrial and agricultural developments, the popu- 
lation increased rapidly toward stabilization and a general atmos- 
phere of security prevailed. Civilization had come and appeared 
permanent. But within a short time the first indications of im- 
pending disaster appeared in the realization of a few men and 
organizations that range depletion was occurring and would soon 
be reflected in reduced carrying capacity, loss of soil fertility, then 
loss of the soil itself, accompanied by devastating floods and un- 
stable stream flow. These first indications were not particularly 
striking or evident and it has only been within the last years that 
general concern has been expressed. The permanency of these in- 
dustrial and agricultural undertakings, whether it is realized or 
not, is dependent on the restoration and maintenance of as nearly 
virgin watershed conditions as possible within the catchment basins. 
If these virgin conditions can be improved upon, so much the better. 
For the most part, the point is now no longer argued that wide- 
spread deterioration of range lands is resulting in destruction of 
the soil cover. And the realization is growing that this soil cover 
lias taken geological ages to produce and when once gone cannot 
be reproduced by any man-made process. 


Long before the topsoil is completely removed, harmful changes 
are wrought in its fertility and productivity, especially in the or- 
ganic content of soil which is so essential to the absorptive and 
water-holding processes and the nitrogen content which is a prime 
requisite of plant growth. 


The value of nitrogen and organic material in determining the 
quantity and quality of plant growth produced on a given soil has 
been amply demonstrated in agricultural practice. Their reappli- 
cation to soils already robbed of them by erosion and leaching re- 
sulted in a greater than 4-fold average annual increase in vegetation, 
over a period of 9 years, in recent tests in Utah (137). Of vast 
importance in range-forage production, they are the first elements 
of the soil to be lost through erosion. 

In Idaho, in a survey of the Boise River watershed, soil samples 
taken from moderately depleted ranges, where erosion was barely 
under way, contained only 77 percent as much nitrogen and organic 
matter as soil from the virgin range; and soils from heavily de- 
pleted ranges already badly eroded contained only 61 percent as 
much nitrogen and 55 percent as much organic matter. In Utah, 
studies showed surface soils from an overgrazed, eroded area con- 
tained an average of 31 percent less nitrogen and 38 percent less 
organic matter than soils from the adjacent protected Salt Lake 
City watershed. When wheat was grown on both eroded and non- 
eroded soils, but otherwise under exactly the same conditions 5.5 
pounds of dry plant material was produced on a unit tract of eroded 
soil and 12.1 pounds on noneroded soil. Nitrogen and organic mat- 
ter in surface soil from lightly, moderately, and heavily eroded areas 
in Davis County, Utah, were on the average 51 and 60 percent, 61 
and 70 percent, and 75 and 84 percent deficient, respectively, as com- 
pared with noneroded soil. 

When the surface soil and its litter and humus layers are par- 
tially destroyed, restoration of the range cover through the process of 
plant succession is exceedingly slow; since each stage in the succes- 
sion must have increasingly better soil conditions until at last the 
climax range cover is attained. This slow process of soil building 
through plant development is, however, not hopeless except in severe 
eases of gullying and stripping where only geologic time can bring 
about reclamation. Examples of the slow progress of rehabilitation 
can be seen on certain areas on the national forests, which were 
badly eroded at the time the forests were created and even after 
more than 20 years of protection are still far from regaining the 
grazing capacity of the virgin range. One of the main reasons for 
this lag in productivity is deficient soil fertility. 


Agricultural development of the West has been based largely on 
the cultivation of the semiarid, fertile, and arable lowlands supplied 
by life-giving streams from the more humid mountain areas (fig. 71). 
Any modification of rate and quantity of run-off upon which 
agricultural development is based is reflected in crop production, 
and as agriculture is built for the most part upon the best possible 
stream flow from the virgin watershed, the changes which have taken 
place are inevitably for the worse. If little water from melting snows 
is absorbed, extremely high peak flows result in the spring, at a season 
when irrigation is not needed. Indispensable irrigation water is 
poured out onto the waste lands or into the sea and lost. If the run- 
off from summer storms rages forth from the canyons as floods, farms 



and communities, which by force of circumstances are located in 
floodable areas, will be devastated. 

In other words, irrigated farming is based on usable run-off and if 
adequate reservoir capacity is not available, requires naturally con- 
trolled stream flow to sustain it properly. Natural flow of streams, 
however, by no means furnishes sufficient water to make all the fertile 

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desert land blossom into productivity. Frequent water shortages 
occur in all Western States. Efforts are being made to overcome 
these shortages as rapidly as possible by building storage facilities 
where suitable reservoir sites are available to catch and hold surplus 
stream flow when it is not needed and release it when the parching 
fields require more than would otherwise be provided. The very con- 
siderable regulation of stream flow brought about by these improve- 
ments has been the means of stimulating agricultural development in 
many sections where it would have been impossible otherwise. Diver- 



sion ditches and canals to conduct the water from rivers and streams 
help complete the reclamation undertaken. 

These irrigation structures of one kind or another in the range- 
land States made possible the production of crops valued at nearly 
$900,000,000 (169) in the single year of 1929. The maintenance of 
the tremendous investment (table 59) in these works at maximum 
efficiency is a paramount consideration. A greater share of the stream 
flow upon which the irrigation depends is from the high mountain 
areas (fig. 72) , many of which have been under national-forest admin- 
istration for 30 years, thus insuring a measure of protection to the 
natural stream flow. The resources of the intermediate and lower and 
in some localities the higher elevational zones, however, have not been 
under administration. These have suffered much depletion of their 
plant cover from overgrazing and fire. As a consequence both the 
permanent and intermittent streams issuing from them are silt laden. 

TABLE 59. Acreage of irrigated land, together ivith value of Iqnd, buildings, and 
machinery, and the value of irrigation improvements for irrigated farms in 
Western range-land States * 


Irrigated area 

Value of land, 
buildings, and 

Value of reser- 
voirs and distri- 
bution systems 

1. Arizona 

575, 590 

157, 290, 710 

73, 328, 197 

2. California 

4 746, 632 

2, 535, 075, 016 

450 967 979 

3. Colorado ._ 

3, 393, 619 

414, 180, 910 

87, 663, 240 

4. Idaho 

2, 181, 250 

316, 649, 034 

84, 500, 354 

6. Kansas *. 

71, 290 

13, 095, 069 

1, 685, 652 

6. Montana . 

1, 594, 912 

205, 027, 415 

50, 319, 204 

7. Nebraska.... 

532, 617 

91, 773, 733 

21, 386, 319 

8. Nevada . 

486, 648 

63, 998, 051 

15, 457, 931 

9. New Mexico 

527, 033 

93, 160, 485 

19, 834, 380 

10. North Dakota 


1, 452, 335 

1, 267, 314 

11. Oklahoma 


1, 771, 383 

160, 099 

12. Oregon . 

898, 713 


38, 754, 548 

13. South Dakota 

67, 107 

11, 576, 300 

4, 502, 117 

14. Texas. .. 

798, 917 

190, 141, 304 


15. Utah 

1, 324, 125 

212, 258, 249 

35, 669, 819 

16. Washington. 

499, 283 

208, 738, 027 

40, 561, 895 

17. Wyoming 

1, 236, 155 

129, 692, 058 

35, 153, 187 


18 944 856 

4, 817, 799, 078 

1, 010, 174, 399 

iFrom Fifteenth Census (159). 


At the present time a most critical situation from the irrigation 
and maintenance of irrigation improvement standpoints exists in the 
Southwest. This is true for three broad reasons : First, because such 
large portions of the southwestern watersheds are in the zones which 
have been badly depleted by unrestricted grazing; second, because 
the prevailing soil types are very susceptible to erosion; and third, 
because so many storage dams and diversion works are needed, creat- 
ing an immense capital investment in the irrigation enterprise. Two 
of the most active expressions of the situation are seen in the devas- 
tating floods which occur and the growth of silt deposits in reservoirs 
and other irrigation works. 

In this region small floods frequently wipe out individual farms 
and homes, and larger floods that inundate and spread destruction 
over entire communities are comparatively frequent. The irrigation 



district in the Palo Verde Valley (148) on the Colorado Kiver in 
California is often menaced by floods, a single one in 1922 causing 
damage estimated at $1,000,000. To combat the flood threat this dis- 
trict had, up to 1931, spent $2,400,000 on flood-protection work. The 

Timbered watersheds practically 
unused for grazing 

Principal water-yielding grazed 
areas (&5^of water of major streams) 

Area contributing an appreciable 
amount of silt to streams 

Area eroding but not contributing 
materially to silt in streams 



Of the area yielding 85 percent of the flow of major streams, approximately 183,000,000 
acres is grazed, 60,000,000 acres of which is contributing an appreciable amount of silt 
to streams. An additional 292,000,000 acres of range lands are also contributing 
appreciable quantities of silt to major streams. This means that the watershed utility 
is being impaired and that river beds, storage reservoirs, ditches, and canals are filling 
and clogging until their efficiency is seriously threatened. 

lower Rio Grande Valley (151) in Texas and Mexico suffers also 
from floods at more or less frequent intervals. One occurring in 
1932 practically wiped out flood-protection improvements costing ap- 
proximately $5,000,000 and caused damage to other property esti- 
mated at $1,000,000 on the American side of the river alone. 


The life of several storage reservoirs in the Southwest is being" 
threatened by silt deposits which result from accelerated erosion in 
their catchment basins. Such rivers as the Colorado normally trans- 
ported considerable silt in suspension, but denudation of the virgin* 
range cover has aggravated the problem tremendously. In New 
Mexico the McMillan Reservoir on the Pecos River has been so com- 
pletely silted that the dam is valuable only for diversion. Also in 
New Mexico the capacity of the Elephant Butte Reservoir is being 
reduced at the rate of approximately 20,000 acre-feet annually (73).. 
The small Austin Reservoir in Texas, with an original capacity of 
32,029 acre- feet, was filled almost completely with silt in 13 years 
(HO). The new Boulder Dam is threatened with silting also, and 
on the basis of recent measurements ($4) it is estimated it will fill 
with eroded material in about 220 years; its effective life from the 
water-storage standpoint will pass much sooner, if the silt load of the 
Colorado River is not reduced. 

Deposition of silt in irrigation canals that must carry a steady and 
adequate flow of water to insure success of crops is a major problem 
in some localities. For instance, in the highly developed Imperial 
Valley of California, where crops valued at nearly $25,000,000 were 
produced in 1929 (159) alone, the estimated average annual, cost of 
silt disposal and control was $1,330,000, the average annual cost to 
individual farmers being estimated at $2 per acre (54) 

Silting of canals and reservoirs means not only the loss of the con- 
struction investment, but also the developments in agriculture, power r 
etc., dependent upon the stored water. If a new site can be found 
and a new dam built, their added cost must be saddled upon the 
already overburdened water users. Rebuilding of silted reservoirs is 
not, therefore, a feasible or reasonable solution of the erosion prob- 
lem. Where no other site is available, even this expensive cure is 
impossible. The dependent industries must collapse and the depend- 
ent population be uprooted and thrust out to seek new homes and 

What accelerated erosion and rapid run-off following deterioration 
of plant cover caused by overgrazing may mean to community wel- 
fare is well illustrated by a small area on the San Juan River between 
Shiprock, N. Mex., and Bluff, Utah. Shortly after this region was 
settled, in about 1880, the excellent grazing lands available in the 
valley and surrounding mountains were stocked heavily with sheep r 
cattle, and horses, and the prosperous little community of Bluff was 
built up. At one time this town was reputed to have the greatest 
per-capita wealth of any town in the United States. By 1935, how- 
ever, drastic changes had been wrought in the range cover and in 
the dependent community. The density of range vegetation had 
decreased from an average of 58 percent to less than 4 percent ; one- 
half of the agricultural lands had been eroded away ; damage from 
floods and erosion estimated at approximately $780,000 had been 
caused; 10 lives had been taken by flood waters; property was tax- 
delinquent; and the village population had declined from 600 to 50 
people. This community literally signed its own death warrant by 
disregarding the consequences of range destruction. 

The great gullies and sterile plains now in evidence on the Navajo 
Indian Reservation (189) are further indications of the ravages of 



-water on depleted range lands in the Southwest. The very existence 
of these Indians, scanty as it is, is threatened by accelerated and unre- 
strained erosion. Water holes are drying up and floods are common. 
Against the processes of erosion of his own making, the red man's 
last stand is futile. Fortunately, in the last few years the plight of 
.this tribe has been recognized, and Government agencies are endeav- 
oring to restore the cover of vegetation and halt soil wastage. 


The upper Colorado River Basin furnishes more than 85 percent 
of the total flow of the Colorado River system. Nearly a billion 
dollars of existing and potential developments are dependent on the 
rflow of this river and its tributaries. Without question, where capi- 
tal investments of such magnitude depend to a large degree upon 
the flow of one river, its watershed must be carefully managed. If 
the direct value of a billion-dollar investment is depreciated 20, or 
-even only 10, percent by avoidable lack of control of stream flow, the 
'financial loss is as inexcusable as it is appalling. The indirect social 
and economic losses which cannot be measured in terms of dollars 
would be even more striking, however, if they were fully understood, 
since active soil erosion and floods attack the welfare not only of the 
irrigationist near the headwaters of the stream, but also the citizen 
of Los Angeles, who looks to the Colorado River to produce a portion 
of his municipal water supply. 



'Under present average watershed and stream-flow conditions, and with present storage 
facilities on the Boise River, water is wasted (on the average) after April 1, when dams 
are filled to capacity. By June 24 stored water must be used, and this use lasts until 
August 22, after which a shortage occurs which results in an average annual loss in 

fross income estimated at $1,914,800. Additional storage is economically impracticable, 
f spring run-off were to be delayed by careful management of the watershed cover, less 
of the peak flow would be wasted and more water would be available in the late summer 
for maturing crops. 

Where the demand for usable irrigation water far exceeds the 
supply, as, for example, in southern Idaho, the need for careful man- 
agement of watershed resources can be vividly illustrated. Under 
such circumstances it is absolutely necessary that streams produce a 
maximum flow in the most usable form. Figure 73 pictures normal 
flow, the average actual flow as developed from stored water, and the 
.average annual water shortage which arises on the Boise River. The 



average annual waste of water down this river, owing to lack of 
sufficient storage facilities, is approximately 448,000 acre-feet. On 
June 24, on the average, the natural flow of the river drops below 
requirements, and it is necessary to supply the deficiency from stored 
water. The reservoirs which thus supplement the flow are drained, 
on the average, by August 22. To provide for maximum-crop pro- 
duction, however, water should be available through September in 
a quantity of 272,632 acre-feet over and above the average flow dur- 
ing this late-summer and early-autumn period. 

present peak flow 

Shortage -with 
delayed peak flow 





If it were possible to so manage the plant cover of watershed lands as to delay peak flow 
of the Boise River 10 days and indications are that some such delay might be accom- 
plished the average annual shortage of water could be reduced 55 percent, making 
additional water available at the season when it is badly needed. 

Obviously two courses appear to be open to correct this situation 
more storage or delayed spring run-off. Surveys have indicated that 
additional storage facilities are economically unpractical. Accord- 
ingly, delayed spring run-off appears to be the only feasible ap- 
proach ; and while it cannot be definitely stated that intensive man- 
agement will consummate this purpose on this already compara- 
tively well-handled watershed, studies of absorption, penetration, 
and retarded run^off made thus far; indicate that at least a more 
satisfactory situation may be approached by properly controlling the 
cover of vegetation, particularly that of the herbaceous and shrubby 
plants. A 10-day delay in the peak flow, which would bring it 
approximately at the peak of requirements, would result in an aver- 
age annual shortage of only 123,000 acre-feet of water, instead of 
the actual shortage of some 273,000 acre-feet (fig. 74) . This average 
increase in available water, coming at a season when irrigation is 
so urgently needed, would mean a material decrease in the $1,914,800 
average annual loss in gross income that water shortage now causes. 
The general theory of this discussion pertains to many watersheds of 
the West, of which the Boise River is only one example upon which 
data are available. 

The proper management of the range coyer to delay run-off from 
a specific watershed is not confined within the boundaries of the 
watershed itself. Lowland areas of depleted plant cover entirely 
outside the watershed may influence materially the yield of usable 
water from a mountain watershed by contributing to early spring 
dust storms. At the time that most serious dust storms originate, 
the most important western watersheds are covered with a winter's 


accumulation of snow which should melt slowly to insure properly 
regulated stream flow. However, when dust from depleted lowland 
areas is deposited in the mountains, the snow cover melts perceptibly 
faster. The dust cover on the snow absorbs heat from the sun rays 
to a far greater degree than the snow surface itself. The effect is 
that of placing a warm) blanket over the snow surface, and more 
rapid run-off is the outcome. During the spring of 1934 this general 
phenomenon was observed throughout the intermountain region. 
It forcibly illustrated the conclusion that watershed protection is 
not confined to watershed boundaries but is a regional problem. 


The importance of watershed resources is probably recognized more 
fully in California and Utah than elsewhere in the West, largely as 
the result of a series of catastrophes. In California the floods in and 
around Los Angeles have brought home the realization that many 
other communities have thus far missed that denudation of a water- 
shed, regardless of cause, is a serious menace to life and property. 
In the previously mentioned La Crescenta flood 30 lives were lost, 
483 homes destroyed, and a total damage caused that was estimated 
at $5,000,000. At present in this same locality 380,000 persons and 
property valued at $300,000,000 are still directly subject to the ravages 
of floods if the local watersheds are devegetated (45). 

In Utah, devastating floods and mud-rock flows issuing from mis- 
used watersheds along the Wasatch Mountain front have made the 
entire State conscious of the consequences of range depletion. During 
a 10-year period prior to 1934 damages conservatively estimated at 
slightly more than $1,000,000 have been caused by such floods in the 
small, intensively farmed section between Ogden and Salt Lake City. 

The communities Centerville and Bountiful, adjacent to where 
these floods occurred, recognized the value of a protected watershed 
some years ago and gained control from private owners of the area 
directly influencing them. Under their protective administration 
the plant cover has been maintained, no floods have been experienced, 
and a healthy feeling of security foreign to their less farsighted 
neighbors is well established. 

These examples might be multiplied many times over. As pre- 
viously discussed, the flood situation is not limited to one locality. 
Costly floods, in both life and property, occur every year in nearly 
all parts of the range country as a consequence of depletion of the 
protective vegetation. 


The necessity for the protection of watersheds furnishing water 
for municipal use has been recognized almost universally where the 
source of supply is relatively near to the point of consumption. As a 
rule, the watersheds yielding water for cities of any size, such as 
Salt Lake City and Denver, are either under municipal regulation or 
are included in the national forests. The role of vegetation is rec- 
ognized, and strict supervision of all activities on the watersheds is 


Cities drawing water from rivers and streams whose headwaters 
are remote to them should be actively interested in seeing to it that 
their watersheds are under the jurisdiction of a public agency inter- 
ested in watershed protection. Civic growth and development are 
limited by the amount of usable water available. It should be realized 
that the building of a new factory or the exploitation of a new sub- 
division may depend upon whether or not accelerated and uncontrolled 
run-off and erosion are occurring on a watershed some few hundred 
miles distant. For example, Los Angeles is vitally concerned with the 
life of the Boulder Dam and the acceleration of erosion and run-off 
on the Colorado River above it. 


Municipalities and industrial enterprises should be concerned with 
the eventualities which face their supply of electricity generated by 
water power. The water power resources of the West are one of 
its greatest heritages, and it is not intimated that power shortages 
eould arise, providing capital is available for their development. 
But uncontrolled run-off and silting of dams may not only jeopard- 
ize undepreciated investments but actually limit industrial and 
domestic expansion because of the excessive costs of producing power 
on new sites in more remote localities. 


To the millions of sportsmen, recreationists, and wildlife conserva- 
tionists through the entire United States, the effect of accelerated, 
heavily silt-laden run-off on the fish resources and recreational value 
of mountain streams is of vital interest. Many recreationists have 
returned to what they remembered as a permanent camping and fish- 
ing paradise, only to find camp grounds eroded away, stream banks 
freshly cut and denuded of vegetation, favorite fishing holes filled 
with silt, moss-covered rocks of the stream-bed scoured clean by silt 
and gravel, and fish that oncei tested their skill, gone. Gone not 
because they had been hooked, but because the disturbance of their 
native habitat and food supply had made existence impossible, or 
because they had been washed from their holes and sheltered havens 
by floods and mud flows. Game and fighting fish demand fairly 
natural or virgin conditions of habitat and channeled and scoured 
streambeds will inevitably cause migration or death. 

The consequences of accelerated erosion on streams in and upon 
which the fish and campgrounds are destroyed are broad. The 
rural community or business enterprise suffers a declining tourist 
trade, a source of income upon which more and more persons have 
lately come to depend; and the recreationist, who is rapidly becom- 
ing more prominent both in numbers and in his dependence on out- 
door enjoyments is deprived of diversions essential to peace of mind, 
health, and happiness. 

Dust storms caused by the action of wind on denuded soil sur- 
faces have already been mentioned. They have produced serious 


consequences during the past few years. Beginning in 1932, and 
again in 1934 and 1935, great clouds of dust have rolled eastward 
from the Great Plains owing to a combination of drought, wind, and 
de vegetation which resulted from the attempt to cultivate true graz- 
ing land. Abandoned farms now stand as ghostly evidence to man's 
lack of regard for nature's balance and the vicissitudes of climate. 
The physical and mental suffering involved have been appalling. 
Homes have been deserted and a despondent yet virile farm popula- 
tion thrust out to experience the hardships of seeking new homes in 
a country lacking more unappropriated arable land. In general, the 
dust storms of the past and the potential hazards of future ones 
have made a considerable section of the Great Plains a less desirable 
place in which to live for both the urban and rural dweller. Busi- 
ness enterprises are insecure, farming hazardous and personal health 

Dust storms have arisen also from the range lands in the Great 
Basin, Columbia River Plateau, and southwestern regions, and 
although the local area affected has been much smaller, their conse- 
quences are similar to the storms originating in the Great Plains. 


Although grazing is often considered the outstanding value of 
range lands, watershed protection may be of even greater importance 
on over half of the total range area. The grazing value of these 
watershed lands seldom exceeds $3 per acre and is often less in their 
present denuded condition. The actual value for watershed protec- 
tion has never definitely been measured. Investments of over 5.8 bil- 
lion dollars in irrigated land and improvements compare with about 
4.1 billion invested in range livestock and private range lands and fa- 
cilities used in their production. Of the 475 million acres of range 
land making up either the important water-yielding or silt-contribut- 
ing areas of major stream basins every acre supports an average in- 
vestment of $12.27 in irrigation works, irrigated land, and facilities. 
In addition these areas support millions of dollars invested in power 
facilities which furnish electric light and power for cities and in- 
dustry; a large part are on drainage areas which supply water to 
thousands of communities. 

The Boise River watershed in Idaho supports a dependent agri- 
cultural investment in the valley of about 53 million dollars equal 
to $32 for every watershed acre. The watershed of the Roosevelt 
Reservoir, the storage basin of the Salt River project in Arizona, 
supports an investment of $67 and a yearly production value, as of 
1928, in agricultural crops and power of $9 for every watershed acre. 

Silt accumulations in many important reservoirs of the West, pri- 
marily the result of accelerated erosion caused by range depletion, 
are threatening the permanency of the communities which such im- 
provements have made possible. In the relatively short period of 17 
years, 13 percent of the capacity of the Elephant Butte Reservoir in 
New Mexico, for example, has been completely silted. The Rio 
Grande channel, near Albuquerque, has become so choked that it will 
cost over 10 million dollars to provide flood protection and drainage 
works. These examples could be supplemented by many more, some 
of which have already been given. 

6494636 23 


The extreme flood hazard of the West, under present conditions of 
impaired watersheds, results annually in unjustified loss of life and 
millions of dollars in property damage. The floods from depleted 
watersheds of Davis County, Utah, wrought havoc in the valley 
communities equivalent to $75 per acre for the entire watershed; 
if this damage were prorated only on the denuded areas from which 
the flood waters came, the losses would aggregate $1,245 per water- 
shed acre. Had protective cover been there such damage would not 
have resulted. High values have also been placed upon the steep 
mountain brush-covered watershed lands of Los Angeles County, 
Calif., where the value of services in water delivery and flood pro- 
tection have been estimated at $300 per acre. Such destruction as 
emanated in the La Crescenta flood on New Year's Day, 1934, from 
an extremely small burned watershed area, clearly indicates the 
great importance of maintaining the protective value of the vege- 
tation on these steep mountain watersheds unimpaired. 

Protection of these critical irrigation and other community values, 
dependent on effective watershed maintenance, means more to the 
West as a whole than the ranches and livestock dependent on the 
watersheds for grazing or the value of the forage which these water- 
sheds produce. If it should become necessary to choose between 
exclusion of livestock for watershed protection and continuation of 
grazing, unquestionably the only practical course would be to elimi- 
nate grazing. However, if proper coordination of grazing and 
watershed protection were provided, elimination of grazing from 
watershed lands, except on relatively small areas, would not be 
necessary. Many of the irrigated ranches owe their economic sound- 
ness to the fact that range forage produced on the watershed lands 
can be utilized by livestock fed part of the year on the ranch. The 
outlying communities on these watershed lands also serve a useful 
economic and social purpose. Continued grazing of these watersheds 
under proper regulation is therefore desirable. Responsibility for 
maintaining favorable watershed conditions on the several hundred 
million acres of range lands, insofar as grazing use is concerned, 
accordingly rests both with the livestock industry and the public. 


Fortunately the destruction of the watershed resources of the vir- 
gjin range has not as a whole proceeded to the point where the situa- 
tion is hopeless. Certain bright spots are still scattered over the 
entire West, and with these and the policies which have been applied 
to them as a nucleus, a way out of the present dilemma is indicated. 

Municipal watersheds which have been protected, certain privately 
owned lands upon which productivity has been maintained, and 
national forests which have been managed with watershed conserva- 
tion as a major consideration, make up the favorable side of the 
present picture. For the most part accelerated erosion and floods 
offer no problem on these areas because of the suitable plant cover 
which has been sustained or restored on them since they came under 
their present ownership or control. On the national forests, as an 
illustration, one of the most important responsibilities associated 
with the administration of range lands has been their protection and 
management as watersheds. This duty has been recognized since 



the creation of the forests, and fortunately for the sustained develop- 
ment of the West, many important water-yielding areas are included 
within their boundaries. At the time the Forest Service undertook 
administration of the national forests, the cover on many watersheds 
had been so severely depleted that erosion was rampant and floods 
were common. Now, under a system of land management that has 
watershed conservation as a basic principle, most of these eroding 
areas have been improved and many have been rehabilitated 

Reference has already been made to the Manti National b orest in 
Utah where it has been said that at one time the number of bands of 
sheep could be counted by the dust clouds which they raised. In- 
evitably, these depleted ranges became eroded severely and floods 
occurred. The settlement at Manti and others situated on the valley 
floor experienced their first floods in 1888 after more than 30 years 
of security. These first floods were followed by others more devas- 
tating, until the effects of reduced stocking and regulated grazing 
following the creation of the national forests began to be reflected 
in a restored plant cover. Thus through protection and rehabilita- 
tion erosion was halted, run-off was regulated as satisfactorily as pos- 
sible under natural conditions, and floods, since 1910, have been 

The history of Forest Service administration of grazing land is 
replete with such examples. Owing to the very badly depleted con- 
dition of the ranges prior to the creation of the forests and the eco- 
nomic demands upon the ranges since that time, erosion has not been 
halted completely in every case, but enough has been done to make 
it evident that control by vegetation is possible and feasible except 
where erosion is extreme. 

Although climate with its vicissitudes of drought, torrential 
storms, and excessive precipitation ; topography with varying degrees 
of slope; and soils with contrasting susceptibility to erosion, are 
important factors in the stability of the watershed resources, the 
plant cover of the range has been shown by conclusive research to be 
the key to the situation and it is the only one that man can manipu- 
late. Unwise use and lack of management on a large share of the 
range lands have brought about the present state of depletion and 
devastation and this misfortune must be corrected and improved. 
Rehabilitation and continued maintenance of a plant cover is the 
method whereby erosion scars can be healed, silt load of streams 
reduced, and unregulated and flood-producing run-off controlled in 
a manner that will yield the maximum quantity of usable water. 

The western United States stands today at the crossroads and 
must choose between controlled management of its vast area of un- 
regulated grazing land or continued exploitation and eventual devas- 
tation. The latter course leads to a China or Syria, with accessible 
range and forest land almost totally devastated and inundating 
floods of common occurrence. The other leads to conditions similar 
to those in many nations of Central Europe, where efficient land 
management policies are practiced to conserve and protect the water- 
sheds. Without doubt the